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The Westminster School Archives

NicolBarengo28 August 2019

The Huguenot Library holds the archives of the French Protestant School of Westminster.

The school was founded in 1747 by a group of wealthy Huguenots who became increasingly concerned about the fate of the Huguenot orphans sent to workhouses or growing up illiterate and without any form of education. The institution they planned to create would feed and clothe the children, teach them basic numerical skills, how to read and write in French and English, sing the Psalms, and provide them with a sound religious instruction. Furthermore, the girls would be taught to sew and knit their own clothes as well as the boys’. In order to attend the school one had to provide proof of either being a French Protestant or being a descendant of one. As a result, baptism certificates, parents’ marriage certificates and information on Huguenot descent are often available in the students’ files.

Baptism certificate of Jacques Bellanger, 6 June 1778.

The institution occupied two houses in Windmill Street, near Tottenham Court Road, until 1846, when it moved to a newly built house in Plumtree Street, next to the French Savoy Church. The number of pupils in the school varied throughout the years, mainly depending on the sums that could be raised from the institution’s benefactors. Generally, about thirty students divided in equal numbers between boys and girls were admitted up to 1813. At this date, the financial difficulties that recurrently plagued the school from its creation, intensified. Therefore, the Directors decided to close the boys’ section, sublet one of the houses occupied by the former students and dismiss the Master, whose services were no longer required. The change is illustrated in the surviving receipts, which went from depicting a boy and a girl wearing uniforms to two girls.

Receipt to Lady Ravensworth, on engraved form showing a boy and girl, 1791.

Unused receipt form showing two girls, post 1813.

This drastic measure was just the last in a series of decisions aimed at reducing expenses, such as buying poorer quality bread and changing the girls uniform from blue to the cheaper grey fabric. This was more hard-felt than it would initially appear, as the institution was known in the Huguenot community as the ‘Blue Coat School’.

The minutes shed light on some of the students’ misbehaviour, such as hitting one of the teachers, in 1783; burying letters in the fields instead of delivering them, in 1793, and climbing on the church’s roof next to the school, in 1868. In 1783, a number of boys managed to throw stones and break one of the neighbouring property’s windows, whilst the Directors were meeting and witnessed the entire event. One wonders if the students were rather unlucky or very brazen! The entry in the minutes pictured below recalls the event, as well as the punishment imposed.

Minutes of the Directors’ meetings, 25 October 1783

Nevertheless, the evidence suggests that the institution had a good reputation and was well liked. It is indeed common to see several generations of the same family attending it.

The main aim of the school was to enable the children to become apprentices when they left at 14. This was achieved successfully and many of the boys were given apprenticeships in trades typical of the Huguenot community, such as tailors, cobblers, weavers, jewellers and watch makers. Many of the girls would, on the other hand, be placed in domestic service, or as lace-makers, menders and dressmakers.

The school finally closed in 1924.

More information about it can be found in three articles published in the Proceedings of the Huguenot Society: William Morris Beaufort, ‘Records of the French Protestant School, founded by Huguenot refugees, 1747’, vol. IV, and Susan Minet, ‘Ecole de Charité Française de Westminster’, vols XII and XIII.

The school’s archives are fully catalogued online here. Researchers can arrange to access the collection by contacting the Huguenot Library here.

 

Social Media Rants from the Past

ErikaDelbecque5 July 2019

This blog post was written by Patricia Jager, an MA student at the Institute of Archaeology who is currently volunteering with UCL Special Collections. She is compiling a list of our 1914-18 collection, with the aim of making this uncatalogued material available for teaching, events and research.

Today we have become used to annoyed social media posts popping up on our feeds from friends, family and random people we once met on holiday. They cover a wide range of political issues and pet peeves that can be funny, inspiring or infuriating depending on which side of the issue you are on. From the perspective of future archaeologists and cultural heritage managers, the internet offers an unprecedented window into current issues on a global level.

However, venting one’s frustration on media platforms does not seem to be an entirely contemporary concept. While listing ‘The British campaign in France and Flanders 1914’ by Arthur Conan Doyle from the 1914-18 collection at UCL Special Collections, I stumbled across a newspaper cut-out from January 5th, 1931 that one of the previous owners must have left behind. While this excerpt was doubtlessly chosen for the main article, it accidentally helped some letters to the editor survive.

They caught my eye because one of them regarded Central London traffic, which apparently was already horrible more than 80 years ago. When comparing the original letter to most of the digital commentary I encounter on social media every day, I was struck by its polite tone that is definitely a thing of the past. If one would use such a comparison to infer the difference between past and current populations, one would believe that our manners had progressively deteriorated over time.

The actual difference between past and modern, however, might be the result of biases. The internet allows us all to act simultaneously as authors and publishers of our written work. Letters to the editor, on the other hand, are selected by the newspaper agency and must abide by certain standards. Anyone, no matter their background, social status or level of education can leave commentary on social media platforms meaning a true variety of opinions are represented and available to future historians. However, how all this data could be archived, catalogued and studied is a question that cannot yet be fully answered, and I doubt that most of us consider what researchers might think about the opinions we share online in a hundred years’ time.

Probably, Charles J. Adams, the author of the letter I found by sheer accident would never have imagined his work published in a completely new medium nearly a hundred years later, especially because it seems like no politician ever read or implemented his sensible proposal. Consequently, letters to the editor and social media rants have at least one thing in common: they are being perpetually ignored by those in charge.

3D in the 18th century: John Cowley’s appendix to Euclid’s Elements (1758)

ErikaDelbecque21 June 2019

Ever since the fifteenth century, printers have grappled with the question of how to make geometrical texts easier to understand by illustrating the text with diagrams. However, the flat surface of a page does not easily lend itself to the clear illustration of complex multi-dimensional figures. In a rare 18th-century edition of Euclid’s Elements that UCL Special Collections recently acquired, John Cowley introduced a new technique that enabled readers to create three-dimensional figures while they studied Euclid’s text.

Elements of Geometry by the ancient Greek mathematician Euclid is a mathematical treatise on geometry and the theory of numbers. Dating from around 300 BC, it became the most influential mathematical text ever written. It remained a standard work until the 19th century, and its influence on mathematics, modern science and the reception of classical philosophy cannot be underestimated.

The Elements has also assumed a central position in printing history from the very beginning. It was one of the earliest mathematical works to be printed (you can find a copy of the first edition of 1482 in our collection), and it is one of the most extensively printed texts ever written, with the number of known editions second only to the Bible. Because the text is typically accompanied by diagrams that illustrate Euclid’s figures, editions of the Elements are also an important source for the study of the history of typography and graphic design.

University College London holds the largest dedicated collection of editions of Euclid in the world. The core of this collection was donated in 1870 by John Thomas Graves (1806-70), Professor of Jurisprudence at UCL, as part of his magnificent mathematical library collection. It has since been added to by subsequent purchases, and now numbers 430 works. The acquisition of the first edition of John Cowley’s An appendix to Euclid’s Elements has filled a conspicuous gap in the collection.

John Cowley was a leading mathematician of the 18th century. He had a particular interest in how to make Euclidean geometry easier to understand for students. Cowley’s 1758 edition of the sections of the Elements dedicated to solid figures presented an important innovation in the visual representation of Euclid’s figures. It includes 42 diagrams printed on pasteboard, designed to be folded into three-dimensional pop-up figures by the reader. The accompanying text contains step-by-step instructions for folding the figure.

Although the use of pop-up diagrams in editions of the Elements was not new (the first attempt at using these can be found in John Day’s edition of 1570), Cowley’s edition introduced more advanced folding techniques than any previous diagrams, and it was the first attempt at representing polyhedrals in a three-dimensional way. The success of his approach is apparent from the publication of a second edition in 1765, of which there are two copies in the Graves Library collection.

Our copy of Cowley’s 1758 edition will be on display at our South Junction Reading Room between 12 and 2 on Tuesday 27th August as part of our weekly drop-in Rare-Books Club, which is open to all. It is also available for consultation in our reading room, and for use in teaching and academic events. Contact Special Collections for more information.

This acquisition was made possible by a generous grant from the Friends of the National Libraries.

Further reading

Eunsoo, Lee (2018). Let the Diagram Speak: Compass Arcs and Visual Auxiliaries in Printed Diagrams of Euclid’s Elements. Endeavour 42 (2018), 78–98

‘Special Collections Presents…’ Returns!

Vicky APrice14 May 2019

Have you ever wondered whether our Rare Books team have favourite items, or with what kind of mysteries our archivists are grappling? Or perhaps you’ve hoped to catch a glimpse of one of our unique and beautiful manuscripts? Then Special Collections Presents… is the event for you!

We are pleased to announce that UCL Special Collections will be running our annual ‘open day’, Special Collections Presents…, as part of UCL’s Festival of Culture on June 5th 2019. This popular event is free and open to all.

We will be presenting a wide selection of items from the collections in half hour slots.  Visitors can choose an area of interest and book a free slot.

Visitors will be able to choose between a varied programme of displays that showcase many areas of interest and research:

  • Geography textbooks from the 18th and 19th century from the UCL Institute of Education Library
  • Works from the fascinating Ogden collection, whose recent cataloguing has revealed a wealth of hidden detail lurking behind their respectable titles (these item were part of Charles Kay Ogden’s private library, described in his own words as presenting “semantics, meaning, word magic…sign systems, symbol systems and non-verbal notations…universal language, translation and simplification”)
  • Items displaying UCL’s own students’ voices from the past; student magazines, debating society minutes, petitions and more from the College Archive
  • Treasures of print, including some famous publications; a rare and very early King James I Bible (1612), Hooke’s Micrographia (1667) and Chertsey’s The crafte to lyve well and to dye well (published in 1505 by Wynkyn de Worde who was known for his work with William Caxton)
  • Marking the launch of a new online catalogue, items from the recently catalogued Alex Comfort Papers will be on display (Comfort was a writer, Director of research in Gerontology in the Zoology department at UCL in the 1960s and ‘70s, an activist in many areas including nuclear disarmament – perhaps best known as the author of the cult publication The Joy of Sex).
  • Items exploring alternative youth movements from the Forest School Camp and the Woodcraft Folk archives, held at UCL Institute of Education
  • A collection of archival items from the Huguenot Library that provide unique insight into the lives of Huguenot immigrants and refugees in the 17th and 18th
  • Autograph letters from 19th and 20th century writers; tales of success, failure and domestic life.  Among others, this will include Dickens, Orwell, T S Eliot, Graham Greene, Iris Murdoch, Radclyffe Hall.

 

This event is open to all – but especially the curious…

Book your free ticket.

‘A book full of anxieties’: The Nonesuch Press edition of Dante’s Divine Comedy

ErikaDelbecque3 May 2019

Our copy of the 1928 Nonesuch Press edition of Dante’s Divine Comedy

The production of the 1928 Nonesuch Press edition of Dante’s Divine Comedy was beset with difficulties. The handmade paper from Italy that had been ordered was so defective that it was unusable, and the stained orange calfskin that was used for the binding, which naturally shrinks and extends in reaction to changes in temperature and humidity, made the boards warp. Francis Meynell, one of the founders of the Press, wrote that ‘it has been a book more full of anxieties than any I have ever tackled’ (Quoted in Dreyfus, p. 46). Nevertheless, the book became an unprecedented success for the Nonesuch Press; it was the most oversubscribed of all of their publications.

The beginning of Dante’s famous work

Meynell founded the Nonesuch Press imprint in 1923 with his wife, Vera Mendel, and the writer David Garnett, with the aim of applying advances in mechanical book production to fine book printing. As opposed to the private presses of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which according to Meynell produced prohibitively expensive books intended to grace library shelves rather than to be read, the aim of the Nonesuch Press was to produce well-made appealing books that were available at relatively low prices. They specialised in carefully designed editions of established literary works, often illustrated by contemporary artists.

Their edition of the Divine Comedy, of which 1,475 copies were printed, presents Dante’s Italian text alongside an English translation. The italic type and the use of roman capitals to mark the start of each line was inspired by the page design of Venetian books from the early sixteenth century. Meynell preferred to use italic fonts for poetry as he felt that it encouraged the reader to slow down. The volume includes 42 illustrations after the famous Renaissance painter and fellow Florentine Botticelli. He designed 19 engravings for Nicholo di Lorenzo della Magna’s 1481 edition of the Divine Comedy, of which we also hold a copy (INCUNABULA FOLIO 6 b ), and he illustrated a late 15th-century manuscript of the work with 92 drawings.

One of the reproductions of Botticelli’s illustrations

The book will be added to our unrivalled Dante collection, which comprises of over 4,000 editions of Dante’s work from the fifteenth century to the present day. When the Nonesuch Press edition was published, a reviewer wrote in the Spectator that he hoped that the copies would not go to ‘those perverse bibliophiles who thwart the holy intention of books by locking them uncut upon their jealous shelves’ (Quoted in Dreyfus, p. 46). He can rest assured when it comes to copy number 868 – it has joined fellow Dante editions on our shelves, waiting to be requested by eager readers.

Further reading

Dreyfus, John. A history of the Nonesuch Press. London: Nonesuch Press, 1981.