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MS Mocatta 20: Taking a closer look at fragments of a 14th century Quran

By Sarah S Pipkin, on 30 June 2023

Over the course of Spring 2023 we worked with our UCL Library Services’ colleague Abida S. to take a closer look at MS Mocatta 20: Fragments from the Holy Quran.

I am grateful to have been given this opportunity to take part in a fun project with UCL’s Special Collections team to showcase a 14th century Quran manuscript on the library social media account. The Quran is the holy book for Muslims. To be able to witness first- hand a Quran manuscript from the 14th Century was a special moment. I had this overwhelming feeling of awe and fascination when viewing a piece of history that has been preserved so well for centuries and I was able to read this Quranic Arabic text that is written in an intricate “muhaqqaq” script. This is the same Quranic words that is read today, unchanged.

Image of a book open to an elaborately decorated page. The paper is durty but the arabic script is still very clear. Surounding the script is an intricate blue and gold leaf pattern. The light is shining off of the gold leaf at the bottom of the page.

MS Mocatta 20. Photo by Abida S.

The Holy Quran is the sacred religious book of Islam. In Islam, the Quran is God communicating with mankind. Reciting the Quran is a religious duty for Muslims, especially during Ramadan. It allows you to connect with the Quran’s message and is a rewarding spiritual practice.

UCL’s manuscript, MS Mocatta 20, is thought to date from the 14th and 15th Century and was previously owned by the historian Fredrick David Mocatta. Upon his death in 1905, the Jewish Historical Society of England deposited his collection with UCL. It is unknown how this Arabic manuscript ended up in Mocatta’s collection, but he may have acquired it as part of his historical research.

The manuscript is written in an intricate “muhaqqaq” script in black ink. This majestic type of script was considered one of the most beautiful, as well as one of the most difficult to execute well. A distinct characteristic of this script is that it’s descending strokes end in a straight, sharp point rather than turning upwards in a hook.

Close up of the arabic script used in the Mocatta manuscript. The background is decorated in a faint floral pattern and there is a gold leaf flower on the top portion of a verse.

First two lines of leaf 2r of MS Mocatta 20

UCL’s fragments include juz’ 19 of the Quran, Surah 25 titled “Al-Furqan, The Criterion”. It is the 42nd Surah to be revealed in the Quran. This juz’, which means part, contains verses 21 to the beginning of verse 62 from Surah Al-Furqan. These particular verses deal with themes of prophethood and resurrection on the Final day of Judgement and the believers’ place in Heaven.

A large, circular design created with blue and green ink, decorated with gold leaf

A large, elaborate roundel

A smaller roundel above some text. It is made out of gold leaf and is decorated with blue and red ink. Some of the gold leaf has rubbed away

A smaller roundel showing signs of wear

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are small roundels on the pages which are used to mark the beginning of each verse. Verse 21 has a decorative page which indicates the start of the juz’ 19 in this surah. These pages are part 19 of the 30 sections of the Quran. This manuscript fragments are written in ink on paper, with colored symbols and gold leaf detailing. It is unknown why these particular pages did not arrive as part of the complete Quran. However, the condition of this manuscript and signs of wear suggest it was regularly read and transported around.

Close up of a detailed and heavily decorated page from MS Mocatta 20. The edge of the page is very worn, and in the centre is large, clear arabic script. There is an intricate border around it with blue ink and gold leaf decorations. Thelight is shining off of the gold leaf.

First page of MS Mocatta 20. Photo by Abida S.

I appreciate how I was given access to a Special Collections archive of a 14th Century Quran manuscript. It not only allowed me to interact with a historical, significant religious holy book that is key to my Muslim identity; but it also introduced me to the traditional format of manuscripts from the past and the physical material and finish of one. Access to Quran manuscripts from the past is so important to keep awareness of traditional manuscripts and religion alive and to appreciate and understand the culture of religious manuscripts.

Thank you again to Abida for her research into MS Mocatta 20! Portions of the juz’ have been digitised, and our collections are open to anyone to come and view. For details on how to make an appointment to view items in our collection such as MS Mocatta 20, check out our “visiting us” page.

 

 

Brenda Salkeld and Eleanor Jacques: the lost letters of George Orwell

By utnvsea, on 28 June 2023


More than a decade ago, the family of Eleanor Jacques discovered a cache of papers hidden in a handbag in a garden shed. On the envelope was written ‘Letters to be destroyed’ and upon opening them, they found handwritten letters to Eleanor from George Orwell, who had been her next-door neighbour in Southwold, Suffolk.

At an event in 2018 to celebrate the discovery of these letters, another sensation was created when an audience member announced that she had at home letters from Orwell to her aunt, Brenda Salkeld, also a Southwold neighbour.

 

There had long been rumours of the existence of these letters amongst Orwell scholars, who hoped to uncover more correspondence with these long-standing female friends. Through serendipity, both sets emerged with a year and were purchased by Richard Blair, Orwell’s son. The letters have now been placed in the Orwell Archive in UCL Special Collections, catalogued and digitised for public access, with the kind permission of the Orwell Literary Estate.

 

 

What is so special about the letters?

The letters span a long range of time, 1931-1949, and continue throughout both of Orwell’s marriages – to Eileen in 1936 and Sonia in 1949. They reveal new details about Orwell’s life in the 1930s – including his overlapping romances, his love of ice skating, and his struggle to write and publish his first novels. They also show that the two women, whom he met while staying with his parents in Southwold, had a profound importance in his life lasting long after his romances with them appear to have ended. Eleanor would go on to marry one of Orwell’s best friends, Dennis Collings.

In a letter to Brenda in 1940, four years into his marriage with his first wife, Eileen O’Shaughnessy, and as a German invasion appeared imminent, he wrote: “It’s a pity … we never made love properly. We could have been so happy. If things are really collapsing I shall try and see you. Or perhaps you wouldn’t want to?” Orwell also wrote to Brenda from his hospital bed (at University College Hospital), sending his last letter four months before his death in 1950, just as he was about to marry his second wife, Sonia Brownell.

The letters also reveal something of Orwell’s writing practice. D.J. Taylor, who helped to track down the letters and has just published an updated biography of Orwell, said:

“In terms of improving our understanding of Orwell’s work, I have a strong suspicion that his letters to Eleanor reminiscing about their country walks at Southwold may have inspired similar passages describing Winston’s affair with Julia in Nineteen Eighty-Four.”

The collection is also notable for the playful drawings Orwell added in the margins of his letters to Brenda, something that is rarely found in his other correspondence. They include images of Billingsgate Fish Market, windmills and the infamous ice rink.

The bulk of the letters have not been publicly available before.

The George Orwell collections at UCL

The George Orwell Archive has been a cornerstone of UCL Special Collections for over 60 years. Deposited by his widow in 1960 and built up over subsequent decades, it is the main resource for Orwell scholars around the world. Comprising manuscripts and typescripts, diaries, notebooks, letters, photographs and family material, including the papers of his two wives, Eileen and Sonia. UCL also holds substantial book collections relating to Orwell, including books owned by him and rare editions of his works.

Hidden in Plain Sight: LGBT+ Histories

By Sarah S Pipkin, on 23 June 2023

The following was adapted from text written by Erika Delbecque and Tabitha Tuckett for the 2023 exhibition catalogue Hidden in Plain Sight: Liberating our Library Collections. The Main Library exhibition Hidden in Plain Sight is open until December 2023 and is open to the public. For more information, visit UCL Library’s Exhibition page.

 

Since 2021, we’ve run the Liberating the Collections volunteer project. Volunteers search our catalogues for Rare Books related to marginalised voices, including examples of historical LGBT+ writers in our collections. The items identified by our volunteers illustrate diversity of sexuality and gender identities present in our collections, while also highlighting the difficulty of applying modern notions of LGBT+ identites to authors who predate them.

One example is Katherine Philips (1632-63). She was one of the first female poets whose work was published during her lifetime. We have several editions of her poetry in our collections, including the 1669 edition of Poems by the most deservedly admired Mrs Katherine Philips.

Engraving showing a a sculptrual bust of a 17th century woman. Bust is labled Orinda.

Author portrait from Poems by the most deservedly admired Mrs Katherine Philips, 1669.

Philips wrote vivid poems about friendships between women, interpreted by some critics as examples of lesbian poetry. One of her poems, “To my Lucasia, in defence of declared Friendship.” begins:

An old, yellowed page of printed text titled "To my Lucasia"

First page of “To my Lucasia”

1.

O My Lucasia, let us speak of our Love,

And think not that impertinent can be,

Which to us both doth such assurance prove,

And whence we find how justly we agree.

2.

Before we knew the treasures of our Love,

Our noble aims our joys did entertain;

And shall enjoyment nothing then improve?

‘Twere best for us then to begin again.

 

The debate on whether Philips’s work should be read as such points to the difficulty of applying modern notions of sexuality and sexual identity to historical authors.

Engraving of an 18th century woman in a dress, standing in a room. The bottom of the portrait is labled Mrs Charlotte Charke

Author portrait from A narrative of the life of Mrs Charlotte Charke.

Charlotte Charke (1713–60) lived and worked as a man for much of her life, defying some of the career limitations for women in eighteenth-century England. Her autobiography A narrative of the life of Mrs Charlotte Charke … Her adventures in men’s cloaths records her experiences. To contemporaries she was notorious, but her works in our collections have received little attention until recently.

We use she/her pronouns when describing her as those are the pronouns she used to describe herself.

Printed Title page for A Narative of the Life of Mrs Charlotte Charke.

Title page of Charke’s autobiography “Written by Herself”.

Charke acted on the stage in male roles, ran a puppet theatre staging political satire and worked in the traditionally male jobs of a gentleman’s valet and a farmer. Unfortunately she paid a price for doing so: frequently short of money, she was estranged from her father and two husbands, against whose affairs and gambling debts she rebelled. Only towards the end of her life, as a writer, did she find success with this book, an early example of a published autobiography written by a woman. We might be tempted to apply anachronistic terms of gender identity to Charke, but the survival of her autobiography at least enables us to read about her life in her own words.

During the eighteenth century, English guidebooks claiming to describe the dangerous temptations of London life to the innocent and respectable reader became popular. They enabled a vicarious exploration of illicit or unconventional sexual behaviour and gender that did not endanger either author or reader. The midnight spy … exhibiting .. bagnios, jelly houses .. and other places of midnight resort, focusing on London’s nightlife, includes an account of jelly houses and bagnios – restaurants and bathhouses that served as brothels where men could pick up both women and other men for sex, although the text does not clarify whether it describes homosexual or heterosexual activity.

Frontisepice of The midnight spy, showing the interior of a tavern full of men and women at tables, chatting to each other. Picture is labled "A night scene in Russel Street"

Frontispiece of The Midnight Spy

Publications of this sort sold well and critical reviews from 1766 mention that passages of this book had been re-used from previous similar titles. Such comments suggest that this may not have been the most up-to-date account of London nightlife during time of rapid change in the capital as the Industrial Revolution began.

These items were indentified by Isobel Goodman (2021 Liberating the Collections volunteer), Chris Fripp (Liberating the
Collections pilot-project researcher 2019–20), and Michael Niedzwiecki (2022 Liberating the Collections volunteer). Thanks to their work, we can highlight these items and ensure they are no longer hidden on our shelves and in our catalogue.

If you would like to see these items for yourself, they are on display in the Main Library until December 2023.

 

 

Royal History: A close look at George VI’s Coronation Programme

By Sarah S Pipkin, on 5 May 2023

Colin Penman, Head of UCL Records, writes about a newly uncovered item in the UCL Records collection.

In the timely way that these things can happen, I recently came across an official souvenir programme for the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in May 1937:

Red book which reads 'The Coronation of Their Majesties King George VI & Queen Elizabeth'

As this is the last time there was a coronation of a king and a queen consort –Charles III’s grandfather and grandmother – it has been interesting to compare the occasion with Saturday’s event. The procession and liturgy are very similar, these things changing little over time. There will be new music and prayers, and the much-publicised ‘Homage of the People’. But some elements of the ceremony date back to before the Norman Conquest, for example the Presentation, when the king is ‘presented’ to the four points of the compass.

The programme itself is quite a lovely thing, a lavish 36 page quarto  booklet with decorative embossed card covers, glassine protective sheets, and nice watered-silk end papers. It seems to be bound with cord rather than staples – you can see it here at the centre pages, which show the route of the procession:

George VI Cornoation Route

Interestingly, on the right hand side, just above the compass, is the ‘Site of New Waterloo Bridge’, not completed until the middle of the Second World War, largely with women’s labour. We can compare this route with a London Transport map which can be found in the Gaitskell papers in Special Collections, showing the route of Queen Elizabeth II’s procession in 1953:

TFL Map showing Elizabeth II coronation route

GAITSKELL/G/MISCELLANEOUS PAMPHLETS AND OTHER PAPERS

Not much between them. King Charles, on the other hand, will simply travel up Whitehall and down the Mall to get back to Buckingham Palace:

Charles III cornoation route

Image from gov.uk

 

The programme for George VI’s coronation includes a coloured, embossed title page:

Embossed title page with the royal coat of arms which reads 'The Coronation of their majesties King George VI and Queen Elizabeth'

and another showing the emblems of the king’s Dominions, which definitely wouldn’t look so crowded in today’s equivalent:

Page featuring coat of arms for each member of the British Empire and British Territories in 1937.

This is followed by a poem by the Poet Laureate, John Masefield, very much of its time: ‘Make wise the councils of the men who sway / The Britain here, the Britains far away’. There is also an interesting essay on the ceremony itself by the Garter King of Arms, the full order of service, and a genealogical table showing the king’s descent from William the Conqueror. The latter can’t compete for splendour with UCL’s own MS ANGL/3, a giant 15th century roll, 10 feet long, showing the supposed lineage of the kings of England all the way back to Adam – you can see a video about MS ANGL/3 online. However, the lineage in George VI’s programme is presumably more accurate.

I don’t know how or why we ended up with this item.  It was found in a box of uncatalogued College archive material, where it obviously doesn’t belong. It’s accompanied by a card from the Vicar of St Peter, Vere Street, and a copy of his sermon, so perhaps there’s a clue there:

A blue pamphlet with the title 'The Coronation of the King: Sermon preached by the REV. DR. Mions Devine in the Church of St. Peter with St. Thomas, Vere Street, W.1., on Sunday Morning May 9th, 1937.' Underneath the pamphlet is a card from Minos Devine, however his handwriting is very hard to read.

I have no information so far on Minos Devine, but hope to find a connection to one of our existing collections. If not, this will be an interesting addition to our London History collection.

Early Modern Women and Printing

By Sarah S Pipkin, on 8 March 2023

The following was adapted from text written by Erika Delbecque and Tabitha Tuckett for the 2023 exhibition catalogue Hidden in Plain Sight: Liberating our Library Collections, which will be available online at the end of March. The Main Library exhibition Hidden in Plain Sight will also be opening at the end of March. Keep an eye out for an opening date announcement coming soon!

Often when we look at books in our collection, our preconceived notions about the historical roles of women in society can cause us to make assumptions about the history of an item. After all, what could the collected works of Francis Bacon, a former Lord High Chancellor of England, tell us about the working lives of women in 17th century England?

When you first open the 1657 edition of Resuscitatio your eye is almost immediately drawn to the full-page engraved portrait of Francis Bacon.  However, this book is part of the long history of women’s involvement in book production.

Portrait of Bacon from Resuscitatio

Portrait of Bacon from Resuscitatio

In early modern England, printing was mostly the preserve of men. However, widows were permitted to take over their late husbands’ printing businesses, which allowed many women a way into this profession. One of these women was Sarah Griffin, who was active as a printer from 1653 to 1673. We can see her involvement in the production of the 1657 edition of Resusciatio by taking a closer look at the title page.

Title page of Resuscitatio

Title page of Resuscitatio (STRONG ROOM OGDEN A QUARTO 329)

The bottom of the title page for Resuscitatio reads: “LONDON, Printed by Sarah Griffin, for William Lee, and are to be sold at his Shop in Fleetsstreet, at the sign of the Turks-head, near the Mitre Tavern, 1657.”

Publishing information at the bottom of the title page of Resuscitatio

Publishing information for Resuscitatio

Sarah Griffin inherited the printing business from her husband Edward in 1652 and ran it successfully for the next 20 years. We have several books printed by Sarah Griffin in our collection, including her edition of Resuscitatio.  

Hannah Allen was another example of a woman who acquired a business on her husband Benjamin’s death in 1632. While it is unclear how long she was involved in publishing, from 1646-1651 Allen published at least 54 books and pamphlets. Her business specialised in religious treatises, such as The hope of Israel. It is an English translation of a work by Menasseh ben Israel, who set up the first Hebrew printing press in Amsterdam.

Title page for The hope of Israel

Title page for The hope of Israel (STRONG ROOM MOCATTA 1650 M1 (5))

Like the 1657 edition of Resuscitatio, a quick glance at The hope of Israel does not reveal an obvious connection to women-owned businesses. However, the bottom of the title page reads: “Printed at London by R.I. for Hannah Allen, at the Crown in Popes-head Alley, 1650.”

Publisher information for The hope of Israel

Publisher information for The hope of Israel

Our collection includes The hope of Israel and the 1648 pamphlet The humble ansvver of the General Councel of the Officers of the Arm.

Both of these items were identified as part of the Rare Books Liberating the Collections volunteer project, which equipped participants with the knowledge and tools to search our catalogue for items in our rare book collections relating to under-represented groups. Twenty-seven volunteers have worked with us, each focusing on a particular topic, such as books owned by women, authors of colour and representations of disability. Without the work of these volunteers, we may have never realised that Resuscitatio and The hope of Israel were part of the history of women in publishing and printing.

Both of these items were identified by Emilia Reid, a 2021 and 2022 Rare Books Liberating the Collections volunteer.

 

‘The first stone’: 197 years of UCL

By Sarah S Pipkin, on 8 February 2023

Leah Johnston, Cataloguing Archivist (Records), explores documents in the College Archives relating to the history of UCL’s Wilkins Building

We are fast approaching UCL’s bicentenary in 2026 and much of its almost 200-year history is recorded within the documents, plans, drawings, photographs, and ephemera of UCL’s College Archive. The archive spans the period from its establishment in 1824, to the present day, and covers everything from founding deeds to student magazines, along with Council minutes, student registers and files, correspondence, and publications about the university.

As UCL Record’s Cataloguing Archivist, it is currently my job to catalogue some of the many collections we hold. I have recently begun work on the College Correspondence, which covers a variety of matters relating to the early administration of the university between 1825-1890. Although most of this collection has already been processed there are still around 200 letters left to be documented. The collection is often used by UCL’s Records’ team to answer enquiries about the early history of the university so it is important that we know what each letter relates to and where it can be found within the 164 boxes in which they are all stored.

While working on a folder of correspondence from 1827 I came across several letters from the architect, Sir William Wilkins who designed UCL’s Wilkins Building. In 1826 he entered a competition set by the Council to submit a design for the emerging university’s main building. Architects submitted their designs in March 1826 and after much deliberation Wilkins’ design was chosen. As noted by Dr Amy Spencer in her lecture ‘The beginnings of UCL in Bloomsbury: some parallels with UCL East’, this was mainly due to the fact that it offered the largest square-footage for the lowest estimate.

 

First page of a letter from from William Wilkins to the Council, dated 17 February 1827, requesting that they delay setting the first stone.Second page of a letter from William Wilkins to the Council, dated 17 February 1827, requesting that they delay setting the first stone.

Third page of a letter from William Wilkins to the Council, dated 17 February 1827, requesting that they delay setting the first stone.

UCLCA/CORR/3076: Letter from William Wilkins to the Council, dated 17 February 1827, requesting that they delay setting the first stone.

 

In this letter dated 17 February 1827, Wilkins requests that the ceremony of the setting of the first stone be postponed for another month. It seems that due to a hard frost at the time Wilkins believed it would be nearly impossible to break ground and he urged the Council to reconsider the intended date.

Other collections within the College Archive include drawings, plans and photographs of the Wilkins building from its inception in 1826 until the present day, allowing us to trace its history through the decades.

College Collection I 16C: West Front of the University of London, 1828

College Collection I 16C: West Front of the University of London, 1828

This print shows how the building would have looked upon its opening in October 1828. Although Wilkins’ estimate was relatively low the university struggled to secure the required funds and as a result the two wings of the building were unable to be built. It wouldn’t be for another 158 years until the building’s quadrangle was completed in 1985, an occasion marked by a visit of Queen Elizabeth II.

The Queen is pictured during a visit to UCL in 1985 to mark the official completion of the Main Quad.

The Queen is pictured during a visit to UCL in 1985 to mark the official completion of the Main Quad.

College Collection X 65: William Monk’s etching of the Wilkins’ Building Portico (c.1900-1920)

Over the years the building has become a well-known landmark of the Bloomsbury area and has been reproduced in drawings, paintings, and later photographs. This print is a copy of an etching by the Victorian artist William Monk and shows the distinctive 10 column Portico some time at the start of the 20th century.

UCL Front Quad and Portico at Night. November 2008

UCL Front Quad and Portico at Night. November 2008. © UCL Media Services – University College London

In contrast this image taken by UCL Media Services team in November 2008 shows the same aspect portrayed in Monk’s engraving. Although the images are almost a century apart the Wilkins Building has remained almost unchanged.

To explore more of the history of UCL’s campus check out our Digital Collections page.

Young people against racism in 1980s London schools

By Erika Delbecque, on 9 January 2023

This post was written by Dr Shirin Hirsch, who was one of the 2022 UCL RIC Visiting Fellows.

Bengali lives are at risk whilst they are at Morpeth – we are punched, kicked and spat on. Enough is enough.

On a Monday morning in January 1986 one hundred Bengali students walked out of their secondary school in Bethnal Green, Tower Hamlets. That weekend they had drawn up a poster calling on all children to strike with them until their demands were met. In Oxford House just off Bethnal Green Road they set up an anti-racist alternative school. Three days later, the students returned to Morpeth with the school management agreeing to their demands. The strike was partially won. Young people, in taking action on their own behalf, had forced a change in the school.

Just over a decade later, I attended the same school. Bengali students were now a large part of the student intake and the school had new management. There were brief institutional histories given on dark days when fascists had attempted to organise and build their ranks inside the school. Then a new head teacher was brought in and it was said that he had transformed the school, later knighted for his efforts. But nowhere in these official histories were the actions of the students themselves remembered. Years later, when I stumbled upon a news report covering the strike, I was full of questions. Why did the students walk out of their school? Was the action connected to other strikes? What impact did the strike have on the school? And why had the students been forgotten for so long? I wanted to dig into the history of my old school, from a year before I was born, to try and find out more about where I was from and how young people had transformed their environment.

There are many challenges in researching the resistance of young people. For one thing, their lives are often remembered in words, documents or collections owned by adults. What is seen as ‘significant’ by older people might be different to young people’s views and experiences. Protests by young people are often against powerful institutions or people who can make decisions about what is and isn’t recorded. This was certainly the case in the Morpeth school strike, with the school management inviting ILEA press officers to the school to ensure the story was tightly controlled. Thames TV entered the school on the day the students returned from their strike but they were only able to interview selected staff and not students. That does not mean young people’s actions have been entirely erased. The local press did report on the Morpeth strike and documents from the strike were kept by a member of ILEA, which have since been donated to Tower Hamlets Archive.

1980s leaflet about the Campaign Against Racism in Schools

Rally against racism in schools. Papers of Ken Jones KJ/4/1, UCL Special Collections, IOE Library and Archives, London.

Morpeth was not the only school where young people were struggling against racism. For my UCL Special Collections fellowship here, I have been spending time with two collections: the Marina Foster (MF) and Ken Jones (KJ) papers. Marina Foster was a Black teacher who had left South Africa as a refugee in the 1960s and in London became an advisory teacher at the ILEA for many years, focusing on multi-ethnic education and tackling institutional racism. Ken Jones was from the 1970s until 1990 a teacher in London secondary schools and active in the politics of education and in issues of curriculum, pedagogy and trade unionism. Both collections illuminate the debates, policies and projects on multicultural and anti-racist education taking place in London schools. There are documents that show imaginative ways of creating an anti-racist classroom, with teacher organisations like Campaign against racism in education (CARE) All London Campaign Against Racism and Fascism (ALCARF) as well as documents from ILEA (Inner London Education Authority).

The collections also illuminate the serious racism that existed in London schools. Daneford school, nearby to Morpeth, in Tower Hamlets, was the most publicised example of this and there are a number of documents on this in UCL special collections. The Guardian reported in 1986 that three quarters of the students at Daneford were of Asian origin and there had been a spate of racist attacks inside the school. The school gates were plastered with National Front stickers and posters, and a 12 year old Bangladeshi student had been viscously attacked with a razor blade by four white students. Another time, twenty white young people at a football match ‘spilled over into the school’ shouting viscous racist abuse. One teacher, Norma Hundleby, told the press: ‘Boys were coming out of all the classrooms to join them. It was totally out of control.’ Kumar Murshid, Chairperson of Campaign against racism in schools (CARS) explained that only ‘the dedication of the anti-racist teachers and pupils who have organised themselves against these attacks’ had helped to ease the tensions at Daneford. The racism, alongside the resistance, would receive national attention following the arrest of Daneford teachers and a school student who were protesting outside the Tower Hamlets ILEA office over the refusal of ILEA to take serious action against racism at Daneford school.

The reports at both Daneford and Morpeth schools challenged a version of schooling which saw young people as passive objects, who should simply ‘do what they are told’. Sajid, 18 years old, summed up the feeling when he explained to the press in 1986:

If we can’t go to school peacefully and study in safety, then we have to fight back. We have as much right as any white kid to go to school.

Front cover of the first issue of Black Parents Special, 1985

Black Parents Special no 1 (1985). Papers of Marina Foster MF/8/39, UCL Special Collections, IOE Library and Archives, London.

The voices of young people are sometimes hard to hear within these collections, but that does not mean they are completely silenced. In the Marina Foster collection there is a ‘Black Youth Annual Penmanship Awards’ with records of Black children’s writings from 1981, with essays on ‘What is means to be Black and British’ and ‘Being without Employment in Britain today’. The winning essay questioned the very nature of the school system, the student directly asking ‘does it prepare me or help me tackle the blatant and insidious forms of racism that, I am afraid to say, I will invariably encounter?’ The frustration at the school system, as well as wider society, was powerfully expressed by many of these young Black authors.

Front cover of a publication by John Gus from the Black Parents Movement, entitled The Black Working Class Movement in Education and Schooling.

Gus, John (1986). The Black Working Class Movement in Education and Schooling. Papers of Marina Foster MF/8/63, UCL Special Collections, IOE Library and Archives, London.

The resistance at Morpeth secondary school in 1986 emerged out of this context and was not an isolated act. The Miners’ Strike had ended in March the previous year, a bitter defeat not just for the miners but for the whole of the labour movement. The year following the strike the numbers of days lost to strike action in Britain was at its lowest since 1967. However, school student strikes were not included in these figures. In April 1985 there was a national school student strike in response to the government’s attempts to make the Youth Training Scheme compulsorily for 16-17 year olds and to take unemployment benefits away from any young people refusing to participate. Alongside these strikes, the British government were openly attacking ‘hard left education authorities and extremist teachers’, as Thatcher put it. Parents were also resisting, and the Black Parents Movement, born in the 1970s, had begun to win serious changes in the schools. In 1981 and 1985 uprisings involving young people against the police had taken place in inner cities across England. Meanwhile teachers in 1985-6 entered disputes over cuts to schools and pay agreements. Gus John, a key activist and founder of the Black Parents Movement, in a speech he gave to teachers in 1986 which was later published as a pamphlet (M/8/63), explained:

The struggles waged by the black community outside of school and in relation to what was going on inside the school, gave school students the confidence to exercise their own power within the school. The school became for them the site of struggle against racism and against the treatment they were subjected to because of their class.

That relationship between students, community groups, teachers and wider political shifts is what I am interested in further exploring. This fellowship has given me the resources and time to piece together archival material and to explore these topics. I now hope to speak to some of the participants themselves. I am gradually trying to recover the resistance of young people against racism so as to remember and learn from their struggles.

George Greenough’s papers – a window into the worlds of 19th-century science, wealth, and empire

By Kurt M Jameson, on 28 October 2022

George Bellas Greenough inherited a fortune at the age of 16 and, as a rich man in his 20s, decided to devote his life to the study of geology. He is best-known for his Geological Map of England and Wales, published in 1820, which used new data and an innovative colouring system to highlight deposits of different types of rocks and minerals. He later became a controversial figure due to his clashes with William Smith, another geologist who had also made a very similar geological map at almost exactly the same time.

George Greenough's colour-coded geological Map of England and Wales (1920).

Greenough’s Geological Map of England and Wales, published in 1820 by the Geological Society. An original copy of his 2nd edition, published in 1839, is held at UCL Special Collections (GREENOUGH/A/2/1).

In the title of Simon Winchester’s book The Map that Changed the World (2001), he is referring to the map created by Smith. Winchester claims that Greenough plagiarised Smith’s map, and that Greenough was an elitist snob who blocked Smith’s entry to the Geological Society due to his class background. However, others have since argued that the creation of Greenough’s map was in reality more nuanced.

A portrait engraving of George Bellas Greenough, early 19th-century.

Portrait of Greenough by Maxim Gauci, mid-19th century. Held at the National Portrait Gallery.

Regardless of whether or not Greenough plagiarised Smith’s work, these maps were ground-breaking in the way that they displayed the minerals and resources that were lying under the ground. This was an exciting development not only for those with an interest in geology or the study of fossils, but also to those who stood to benefit financially. At the time, raw materials were in high demand in order to fuel the industrial revolution. In Simon Winchester’s words: “Landowners realized that they possibly had beneath their lawns, meadows and forests huge seams of coal that could make them rich beyond their dreams.”

This was also a time of a growing British Empire, which may explain why Greenough’s other major publication was a comprehensive geological map of ‘British India’, in 1855. Greenough produced this map with the help of the East India Company, but never visited the Indian subcontinent himself. Some of Greenough’s papers hint at the potential advantages for nations of having more accurate geological information. The following passage is from a draft letter of 1810 which appears to have been drafted or translated by Greenough for Jacques Louis, Comte de Bournon, regarding a collection of minerals that had recently been bought by the British Museum:

“The collection of the late Mr. Greville, celebrated throughout Europe, is now the property of Great Britain, a country the commerce manufactures & territorial revenue of which are intimately connected with the state of its mines & this acquisition has been made at a time when mineralogy engages a more than ordinary share of public attention.” (GREENOUGH/B/4/R/12)

George Greenough's colour-coded 'General Sketch of the Physical and Geological Features of British India'

Greenough’s General Sketch of the Physical and Geological Features of British India, published in 1855. An original copy is held at UCL Special Collections (GREENOUGH/A/3/1).

UCL Special Collections holds a substantial collection of George Greenough’s papers. These papers include original copies and fragments of his own geological maps, his notes on various geological topics and debates, and his notes on other sciences. His diaries from his many expeditions through Europe include descriptions and sketches of the surrounding geology, as well as his observations on the local culture and politics. In one of these diaries he describes his escape from Sicily in 1803, as the French had invaded the Italian peninsula from the north (GREENOUGH/B/2/1/1).

A considerable amount of these papers consist of Greenough’s private correspondence. These letters read like a ‘who’s who’ of the elite scientific community in 19th-century Britain, and include letters from Michael Faraday, Francis Beaufort, Marc Isambard Brunel, and John Herschel. Being from this time period Greenough’s correspondence is almost entirely with other men, although there are some letters from women. In one letter Sarah Frembly appealed to Greenough to use his influence with the Admiralty, as her husband John had been shipwrecked and dismissed from the Royal Navy, leaving her family destitute (GREENOUGH/B/4/F/14).

In later life Greenough also focussed on the field of geography, serving as the President of the Royal Geographical Society from 1839 to 1841. This likely explains why he was in possession of a leaflet for a rescue mission for Franklin’s lost expedition to find the ‘Northwest Passage’ through the Canadian Arctic (GREENOUGH/B/3/5/1), and of prospectuses for the construction of a ‘Grand Georama’ in London (GREENOUGH/B/1/10).

Leaflet for an apeal to raise money for a rescue mission to find Franklin's lost expedition to the Canadian Arctic to find the 'Northwest Passage'.

Leaflet for the rescue of Franklin’s lost expedition (GREENOUGH/B/3/5/1)

The Greenough papers arrived at UCL in two separate deposits, the second deposit of which (‘Part B’) is newly-catalogued. The catalogue for the Greenough papers can be browsed via the UCL Archives online catalogue: https://archives.ucl.ac.uk/CalmView/. The Greenough papers will be of particular interest for any researchers of the history of geology, but may also prove useful for research into other aspects of 19th-century Britain.

To make an appointment to view any of the papers in the Greenough collection, please contact us at spec.coll@ucl.ac.uk.

“We Are Not Alone”: Legacies of Eugenics in Education and Society

By Nazlin Bhimani, on 17 October 2022

This post has been co-authored with Professor Marius Turda.

The IOE Library has on display a shortened version of the exhibition “We Are Not Alone”: Legacies of Eugenics which was first shown at the Weiner Holocaust Library in 2021 and which is now at the Royal College of Psychiatrists. The exhibition was curated by Professor Turda (Oxford Brookes University) with some content from UCL Special Collections (Galton Laboratory Collection and the IOE Library’s History of Education Collection) as well as content from the LSE’s Library. Following the opening of the exhibition, the Weiner Library hosted a Roundtable Discussion where all who worked on the exhibition shared our research. Both Indy Bhullar, Curator for Economics and Social Policy at the LSE Library, and I were subsequently invited by Subhadra Das (previously Curator of Science Collections at UCL Culture and now an independent scholar) to publish this research as short stories for the Wellcome Collection. The following provides some background on eugenics and the resources that are currently on display at the IOE Library.

The title of the exhibition, “We are Not Alone” is inspired by a widely circulated Nazi eugenic poster from the mid-1930s. After the introduction of the 1933 ‘Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring’, Nazi propagandists claimed that their eugenic programme of forced sterilisation was in no way different to provisions already existing in the penal legislation of countries such as the USA and Sweden, and which was about to be introduced in other European countries such as Britain, Hungary, and Poland. ‘We are not alone’, they said, hoping to garner international support for their plans to eliminate ‘defectives’ from society and to ‘purify the race’.

Eugenics was a global movement. The exhibition highlights this aspect, providing historical examples from Britain, USA, Italy, Sweden, and Romania, whilst recognising that eugenics programmes targeting individuals with mental disabilities and ethnic minorities were not stopped after 1945. They continued during the post-World War II period in countries as diverse as the USA, Scandinavia, Japan, Czechoslovakia, and Peru. The exhibition aims, therefore, to offer a historically informed account of our eugenic past, present, and future, balancing various elements of continuity and discontinuity, of idiosyncrasy and similarity between eugenic movements across the world.

The internationalisation of eugenics reflected a general appreciation in many parts of the world that science was the sufficient and necessary foundation for the long-awaited renewal of the human race. As a self-styled scientific theory of human betterment and planned breeding, eugenics was based on the principle that people who were deemed socially and biologically ‘unworthy’ of reproduction should be excluded. In the name of future generations, eugenicists dissolved aspects of the private sphere, scrutinising, and working to curtail reproductive, individual, gender, religious and indigenous rights. The boundary between the private and public spheres was blurred by the idea of public responsibility for the nation and the race, which came to dominate both. In the twentieth century, the state and the society at large increasingly adopted a eugenic worldview, even though none of it was based on proven scientific arguments. Instead, eugenics relied on speculations about social norms, cultural, ethnic and gender differences, and racial worth. Ideas of economic and social productivity also flowed readily from eugenic arguments, and eugenicists argued that if an individual was found to be socially ‘unfit’, it was appropriate for them to be ‘weeded out’. ‘Unfit’ had become a label for those members of society who were deemed ‘pathological’, ‘criminal’, ‘asocial’, ‘foreign’ and ‘undesired’.

Eugenicists claimed to act in the name of future generations by ensuring the continuity of people who were believed to be ‘hereditarily healthy’. Some eugenicists highlighted the primacy of heredity in shaping character and behaviour, while others insisted equally on the role of education and the environment. Not surprisingly, they also disagreed over which eugenic measures were deemed practical and efficient, and which ones should be rejected on ethical, scientific and religious grounds. In Britain, for instance, the Eugenics Society set up a committee to draft a sterilisation bill in 1929, chaired by the society’s president, Bernard Mallet. Two years later Major Archibald Church (1886–1954), a Labour MP and member of the Eugenics Society, introduced a sterilisation bill in the House of Commons, but it was rejected. One of his Labour colleagues, physician Hyacinth Morgan (1885-1956) rebuked the bill sharply: ‘Some when inebriated see beetles; the eugenist intoxicated, sees defectives’. In 1932, another sterilisation committee was established under the chairman of the Board of Control, Lawrence Brock (1879-1949). But these efforts led nowhere, as no sterilisation bill was introduced in Parliament again.

The exhibition presents us with the opportunity to review how assumptions and attitudes rooted in eugenic principles became entrenched in British education. From the beginning, eugenics appealed to educationalists, school reformers and feminists who advocated teaching the nation’s children and the youth ‘sound morals’ alongside physical education and modern ideas of hygiene. These were considered prerequisites for maintaining a healthy body and mind, and in society’s advancement towards a eugenic future. Educationalists such as the co-founder of the London School of Economics, Sidney Webb (who was instrumental in the establishment of the London Day Training College –now the IOE, UCL’s Faculty of Education and Society), was a key supporter of eugenics. Other examples include heads of colleges such as Margaret Tuke, Principal of Bedford College and J. J. Findlay of Owen’s College, Manchester, the London County Council’s Schools Inspector, W. H. Winch, and the educational psychologist Cyril Burt.

The cases display the intelligence tests or IQ tests from the Psychology and Human Development (PHD) Collection at the IOE. These tests were adapted by Cyril Burt from the IQ tests developed in Paris by Alfred Binet and Theodore Simon at the turn of the twentieth century. Burt’s ‘mental footrule’ was used to rate the intelligence of a child and his evaluation of mental deficiencies influenced the outcome of the 1924  Hadow report on psychological testing and the  1929 Wood Report of the Mental Deficiency Committee and the Board of Education. The latter recommended the reclassification of children considered to be ‘mentally defective’ . Also on display are publications by the experimental psychologist, H. R. Hamley and director T. Percy Nunn on The Education of Backward Children: and, Juvenile Delinquency in England and Wales as well as A Textbook of Hygiene for Training Colleges by Margaret Avery, Vice Principal of Warrington Teacher Training College.

Image of the title page of Margaret Avery's textbook 'Hygiene'

Besides focusing on biological hygiene, Avery devotes an entire chapter on eugenics. This chapter provides examples of how eugenic thinking persists in the present day and is consistent with recent statements made by some politicians currently in power. For example, Avery states that while there are many ‘causes of pauperism’, one of them is that the working classes simply ‘lack…”grit”‘(p. 310)–a message that is not dissimilar to the one recently expressed by the (now previous) prime minister in relation to ‘British workers being the worst idlers in the world’. In relation to immigrants, Avery states: ‘We should welcome the right type of immigrant and discourage the wrong type’ and ‘we… receive the off-scourings of other countries, and these are racially very undesirable’ (p. 320). Once again, this mirrors the views of the present government on refugees and immigrants. Avery ends her chapter by stating that Christianity is on the side of the eugenicists because it, ‘more than any other power, has given us a sense of the infinite value of human life, and the eugenicist is trying to prevent the wreckage of human life’ (p. 323). While the Church has spoken out against these messages in Britain, the story is far from different in the United States (see Witnessing Whiteness by Kristopher Norris). Avery’s book continued to be published in several editions until 1951. It was the recommended textbook for the Board of Education’s teachers’ examination in hygiene. Undoubtedly, it will have influenced the thinking of generations of teachers and their students.

Although the true impact of eugenics will never be known, its legacies continue to penetrate deeply and widely into the fabric of our society. Continuing education and engagement with eugenics, as well as its public condemnation, are essential components of our efforts to comprehend a hidden and ominous past, while also pursuing a fair and just society.

Liberating the Collections 2022: A Volunteer’s Experience of Searching UCL Special Collections

By Erika Delbecque, on 23 August 2022

This guest blog post was written by Jane McChrystal , who spent five months volunteering at UCL Special Collections as part of the Liberating the Collections project.

In March I was presented with an exciting opportunity – discovering the work of women authors published before 1750, held by UCL Library’s Special Collections. I’d been invited to join a team of volunteers for the library’s Liberating the Collections project, by Head of Rare books, Erika Delbecque. Next, Erika convened an online meeting to introduce volunteers to each other and some members of the library team. During the meeting the librarians showed us how to identify works catalogued in the Special Collections using the Explore service, knowledge which could then be applied to the pursuit of the individual projects Erika had assigned.

There were some initial qualms- what if there weren’t any works by women authors pre 1750 in UCL’s collections, or I couldn’t work out how to find them? Luckily, my supervisor, Jo Baines, Academic Liaison Librarian / Archivist, was at hand to reassure me that there were, as I’d hoped, many different ways of approaching the collections to find relevant texts, so it was fine, at this stage to try out a variety of search methods and see what worked.

Initially, I set out in quite a random fashion. I didn’t make much headway, but I was able familiarise myself with Explore and become more confident about finding my way round the collections. And then, Covid struck in April, leaving me quite foggy for a number of weeks.

Once the fog lifted, something had become clear, I needed a system. A simple idea occurred to me. How about approaching my searches with a list of women authors who lived between the 14th and 18th centuries? In this instance, Wikipedia was my friend and it helped me to compile a list of 353 authors. I then selected some who looked the most promising and noted the subjects they addressed, and the literary forms they employed, such as poetry, meditations or drama. Consequently, I was able to match the authors with the collections they were most likely to be found in and the carry out a simple author search in the catalogue of the relevant collections.

The title page of
Letters of the Right Honourable Lady M-y W–y M–e by
Mary Wortley Montagu (Dublin : Printed for P. Wilson, J. Hoey, Junior, and J. Potts, 1763). [SSEES Library, Rare Books Room, KMisc51]

The Rotton and Strong Room collections yielded eleven works by Aphra Behn, a good result, but not too surprising, as she was about the only seventeenth-century woman author I was already familiar with. Today, she is remembered chiefly for a novel, Oroonoko, the tale of a doomed affair between Oroonoko, an African prince and his love, Imoinda, set largely in Surinam played out against the background of a slaves’ revolt, and later adapted into a more successful play.

Before my search, though, I wasn’t aware of her four other dramas and poetry, mainly composed of paeons of praise to various illustrious individuals and members of royalty. I really knew very little about this literary form, but as I went ahead with further searches, I came to realise how popular it was, which makes sense when you consider the important role of patrons in literary life at the time.

And then I came across a gem in the Rotton collection, a collection of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu’s letters to various eminent men in England, concerning her travels in Europe, Africa and Asia with her husband, a British ambassador, which lists the name “Mary Astell” among its contributors.

Mary Astell (1666-1731), sometimes referred to as England’s first feminist, was the author of A Serious Proposal to the Ladies for the Advancement of their True and Greatest Interest, a Lockean philosopher and the founder of a charity school for girls in Chelsea.

She also belonged to a circle of scholarly women in Chelsea, which included Lady Mary Chudleigh, Elizabeth Thomas and Elizabeth Elstob and Wortley Montagu. Each lived in quite different circumstances, ranging from the wealthy, aristocratic Wortley Montagu to Astell.

Astell was a single woman, whose family had fallen on hard times and, as such, had no prospect of marriage to a social equal. She survived on the patronage of women, like those in the circle, who shared her interests in feminism, the oppressive nature of marital relations and the importance of a good education for girls and women.

I returned to the catalogue in search of their names and found four other works by Montagu in the Rotton Collection, largely made up of more letters about her experiences in the different countries she lived in. It is fortunate that these letters were preserved in the eminent men’s libraries and published after their estates were distributed. These texts were then picked up by collectors who donated them to UCL Library.

So, what next?  On 24th August I look forward to sharing my discoveries at a meeting of UCL Library’s Rare Books Club, where participants will have a chance to take a look at some of the texts I found and learn about the work of two fascinating women authors previously buried in the Special Collections, together with the stories of some other important women in their orbit.

All in all, these experiences of taking part in Liberating the Collections have lived up to every expectation I set out with and beyond. Working with Jo as my supervisor has been one of the most enjoyable of them and, thanks to her knowledge, flexible approach and supportive attitude, I found a path to these heroines.

New Jewish pamphlets

By Vanessa Freedman, on 24 June 2022

The Hebrew & Jewish Studies Collections in UCL Special Collections include a treasure trove of material in the form of pamphlets. There are over 9,000 pamphlets on a wide range of subjects throughout the field of Jewish Studies, particularly Anglo-Jewish history, Zionism and liturgy. The pamphlets date from 1601 onwards, and are in English, Hebrew, German and a number of other languages.

In 2019 we completed a project to make these rich collections available to scholars and the general public. They are now catalogued in Explore, the most fragile items have been conserved, and a selection of them have been digitised.

We haven’t finished developing this collection though, as we are still acquiring pamphlets by purchase or donation. If you have any pamphlets that you would like to donate, please contact the Hebrew & Jewish Studies librarian.

Here are a few highlights from our recent acquisitions.

Bekhi tamrurim : be-yom evel u-misped ʻal aḥenu ḥalele ha-peraʻot be-artsot Polin : yom 5, 28 Siṿan 679 li-f.-ḳ = A service of prayer and mourning for the victims of the pogroms in Poland : Queen’s Hall, June 26th, 5679-1919

Cover of pamphletOne of the highlights of the pamphlet collection is a large number of orders of service for a variety of national and communal occasions. This particular service was a cross-communal event: published by the Office of the Chief Rabbi of the United (orthodox) Synagogue, those leading the service also included Rev S.J. Roco of the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue and Rev Morris Joseph of the (Reform) West London Synagogue of British Jews. The occasion was a spate of attacks against Jews that took place in newly-independent Poland after the First World War. There were over 130 attacks against Jews in Polish territories between 1918 and 1921, causing around 300 deaths.[1] The Hebrew title Bekhi tamrurim means ‘bitter cry’.

 

 

A Palestine Munich? by R.H.S. Crossman and Michael Foot

Cover of pamphletIn this ‘provocative’[2] pamphlet, published in 1946, left-wing backbench MPs Richard Crossman and Michael Foot (later leader of the Labour Party) attack the Labour Government’s policy on Palestine. They criticise the government for indecision and compare the restriction of Jewish immigration in order to avoid Arab opposition to the pre-war appeasement of Hitler (hence the title). The pamphlet argues for the partition of Palestine to form a Jewish state and an enlarged Transjordan.

 

 

 

 

 

And finally, a fascinating oddity:

Teʻudah Yehudit = Idisher doḳumenṭ = Jewish certificate

Cover of pamphletThis ‘Jewish Certificate’, in Hebrew, Yiddish, English and Arabic, looks like a passport and includes space for the holder’s photograph, signature and personal details. It proclaims that ‘the bearer of this certificate is a Jew not a Zionist and has no connection with the nationalist movement which has gained control over the Holy Land and turned it into a Zionist state by falsely assuming the Jewish names of Zion and Israel’. It was produced in 1976 or 1977 by the anti-Zionist ultra-Orthodox group Neturei Karta, some of whose members refuse to carry an Israeli identity card[3].

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Anna Cichopek-Gajraj and Glenn Dynner, “Pogroms in Modern Poland, 1918–1946,” in Pogroms: A Documentary History, ed. Eugene M. Avrutin and Elissa Bemporad (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2021), 193.

[2] Kenneth O. Morgan, “Foot, Michael Mackintosh (1913–2010), journalist, politician, and author,” in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2016).

[3] Menachem Friedman, “Neturei Karta,” in Encyclopaedia Judaica, ed. Michael Berenbaum and Fred Skolnik (Detroit, MI: Macmillan Reference USA, 2007).

Uncovering silenced voices in our rare books: the Liberating the Collections volunteer project

By Erika Delbecque, on 10 February 2022

For most of recent history, access to the means to read, write, publish and collect texts was restricted to society’s most privileged. Most of the 150,000 rare books that are looked after by UCL Special Collections were donated over the past two centuries by members of the same privileged group. Collecting books is never neutral: the choice to purchase books in a certain discipline, or on specific topics or by particular authors also implies the choice not to purchase other materials. The interests and prejudices of the collectors themselves and the society they lived in deeply influenced those decisions.

Portrait of a Muslim woman in formal garb.
Jaʻfar Sharīf, Qanoon-e-Islam, or, The customs of the Mussulmans of India. 2nd ed. (Madras, J. Higginbotham: 1863) [WHITLEY STOKES 113.k.19]

The result is that the rare printed collections that we have inherited overwhelmingly document the experiences, achievements and concerns of white men of European heritage. The experiences of less privileged people – those of non-white ethnicity, women, those living with a disability or people who are LGBTQ+, for example – are much more difficult to find.

Uncovering obscured histories

To start addressing this challenge, we set up a volunteering project called Liberating the Collections in 2021. Thirteen volunteers searched our catalogue for books, pamphlets and journals that relate to the experiences of people from marginalised groups. Focusing on topics such as women book owners, same sex love and desire and BAME authors, they compiled a list of 650 books from our collections that provide glimpses into some of those obscured histories. A new display at the Student Centre, which is opening on 15th February ’22, will showcase a selection of images from the items that the project has uncovered.

Complex questions

Signatures of Mary Rich and Margarit Riche. John Harington. Orlando Furioso in English heroical verse (London: Richard Field, 1591) [STRONG ROOM OGDEN B 2]

Searching for these underrepresented voices in our collections brought up many questions that don’t have easy answers. Are descriptions of non-Western traditions by representatives of the nations that colonised these countries examples of preservation or exploitation? How do you uncover women’s histories when the surviving historical evidence is scanty? Can we apply modern notions of sexual identities to texts that were written by historic people?

These issues are reflected in some of the items that are included in the display. There is a copy of a sixteenth-century epic poem that was signed by Mary Rich and Margarit Riche, whose identities we can only guess at. Another item in the display is a volume of poetry by Katherine Philips (1632-64), who some consider to be a lesbian poet, although others have called this reading anachronistic. Also included is an illustration from Kaladlit okalluktualliait (1859-61), an anthology of Inuit folk tales that was published by a Danish colonial official.

Next steps

Portrait of Katherine Philips in Poems by the most deservedly admired Mrs Katherine Philips (London: H. Herringman, 1669) [STRONG ROOM OGDEN A QUARTO 168]

Listing items from our collections that relate to underrepresented and marginalised groups is only the first step in amplifying these voices. Through updating our catalogue records with the findings of the volunteers, we will make these items easier to discover. For example, where volunteers have identified women who previously owned books in our collections or women printers who used their late husband’s name, we are adding these names to the catalogue record. We are also planning to digitise some of these items so that they are freely available online, and we are using the list as a basis to diversify the items we use in our exhibitions, classes and events.

The Liberating the Collections project has only scratched the tip of the metaphorical iceberg, but already we are finding treasures as the ice starts to melt.

‘Very coarse articles’ – celebrating UCL’s institutional archive

By Colin Penman, on 8 February 2022

February 11 is generally accepted as UCL’s ‘birthday’, the date in 1826 of our founding instrument, the Deed of Settlement. This document establishes a society, called ‘The Proprietors of the University of London’, to set up an Institution with the object of ‘affording to young Men … adequate opportunities for obtaining Literary and Scientific Education at a moderate expence’. That’s exactly what our founders did, disregarding a very snooty letter to The Times on 2 November 1825, which suggested ‘There should be something of a prohibitive duty in the way of expense, to prevent the admission of very coarse articles’.

UCLCA/1, Deed of Settlement

This is an image of the first page of the Deed of Settlement, held in the UCL institutional archive, which I manage. This archive is of course just one part of Special Collections, but I want to use this anniversary to bang our drum or blow our trumpet (or both).

When those who know us think of our Special Collections, they may not think first of the archives of UCL itself: after all, we have other, flagship collections which rightly claim a lot of scholarly and popular attention. But I’d argue that our own archive is not only worthy of some of that attention, it’s vital to UCL’s understanding of itself, and the way we present ourselves to the world.

For a start, it can be a useful corrective to the stories we tell about UCL. For example, for a long time you could read on our website and social media that UCL was ‘the first university in England to admit women on equal terms with men’. You rarely see that claim now, because it simply isn’t true. It’s a lot more interesting than that, and you can trace the complex truth in the College archive through items like the College Calendars, which tell us:

College Collection A 3.2, p. 2

That is, if you were a prospective student in the second half of the 19th century and happened to be a woman (and not connected to a man at the top of the institution), you needed the approval of the Lady Superintendent of Women Students. Similarly, a look at plans of the Wilkins building from this time shows separate spaces for women, with the Union Society (men only) on the left, and women’s space on the right, in the South Wing:

College Collection A 3.2

and the archives of the Women’s Union Society (WUS) attest to a separation of male and female students that lasted right up to 1946.

The archive is also increasingly used as a resource in UCL’s teaching. This term we are taking part in the Institute of Education’s Worlds of UCL module, which uses the history of UCL and the Institute to explore topics in the history of education. Last week, students were using items from the archive – specifically a blazer, medals and magazines – to think about student culture and identity, and how these have evolved over time.

Last term, we contributed to the Bartlett School’s Architecture & Historic Urban Environments MA module on Surveying and Recording of Cities, using our building plans, like this, one of Thomas Hayter Lewis’s plans for the South Wing of the Wilkins Building,

UCLCA PLANS D5

as well as a remarkable document with the prosaic title of ‘Analysis of Plans’. It was the Bartlett’s Dr Amy Spencer, who has just completed her PhD on UCL’s architectural history, who pointed out the significance of this item, slightly unnoticed in our vast collection of College Correspondence. It is in fact a comparison of the bids received (around the time of the Deed of Settlement, in early 1826) for the building for the new university. Due to its significance, and to make it safer to handle and display, we decided to ask our wonderful conservators to stabilise it for the future. Now it has a new enclosure of its own, and will be stored flat, instead of being folded four times:

UCLCA/CORR/1167/15

These are just a few examples of how we’re getting the archive out there, and developing it for the future. Much more cataloguing is needed, and we’re working on that, but we also have a wealth of digitised material which is so vital in research and teaching support, particularly throughout Covid lockdowns, when nobody could access the collections physically. For this, we have to thank our Special Collections digital curation colleagues, and UCL Educational Media Services.

Meanwhile, the archive is being developed in innovative ways. Although we occasionally accept donations from people formerly connected with UCL, the vast majority of the archive consists of the administrative records that you would expect to find in any large educational establishment – minutes, correspondence, registers and so on. These are vital to our understanding of the story of UCL. But with the records of individuals, we can include voices that are missing from that story. If you were a student or staff member at the Slade School, for example, there’s still time to send something to Slade 150: Letters to the Archive. And the Generation UCL project will make a more wide-ranging contribution as a record of recent student life in London.

After all, our 200th birthday is only four years away!

To learn more about UCL Records, check out our main page.

The Trades Advisory Council – countering antisemitism and fascism in 20th-century Britain

By Kurt M Jameson, on 3 February 2022

The Trades Advisory Council of British Jewry (TAC) was formed in 1938, to counter antisemitism in the sphere of trade. The TAC archives capture the history of fascism and antisemitism in mid-20th century Britain, and the history of those who fought back.

Black-and-white portrait photograph of Maurice Orbach.

A photograph of Maurice Orbach, by Walter Stoneman (1949). © National Portrait Gallery, London (link to image). Provided under Creative Commons licence BY-NC-ND 3.0

UCL has a collection of TAC archives, which has recently been fully catalogued. This collection appears to have originally been accumulated by Maurice Orbach (pictured), who was General Secretary of the TAC from 1940 until his death in 1979. The TAC began as a sub-committee of the Defence Committee of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, but it became more independent over time. In their own words, the TAC’s aim was “eliminating friction in industry between Jews and non-Jews”. From the surviving TAC minute books, correspondence, and a large case book from the 1940s, we are able to see what this meant in practice.

The TAC would often intervene to apply pressure on businesses, if Jewish workers or Jewish customers were experiencing discrimination. Some of these people that the TAC helped in the 1940s were Jewish refugees fleeing mainland Europe due to the spread of fascism. In other cases, the TAC would act as mediators in disputes involving Jewish businesses. Their work therefore also involved forming relationships with various unions and trade bodies. Another aspect of the TAC’s work was to challenge antisemitic statements and characterisations that appeared in the media.

A photo of text from a leaflet entitled 'The Objects of the Trades Advisory Council'

An excerpt from a TAC leaflet, c.1940 (found in scrapbook TAC/2/1)

The TAC’s activities have resulted in a vast collection of press cuttings and antisemitic material, and the creation of files about individuals and organisations which the TAC suspected of being fascist. Many of these people were openly fascist, such as Oswald Mosley (who founded the British Union of Fascists in 1932). It is not entirely clear whether all of this material was collected for the TAC’s activities, or if some of it was collected for Maurice Orbach’s personal files (he was also an MP and a campaigner against racial discrimination), but regardless this collection now provides a vast trove of newspaper cuttings, leaflets, newsletters, pamphlets, and letters regarding antisemitism and fascism in Europe in the mid-20th century. Large scrapbooks have been filled with hundreds of newspaper cuttings reporting the activities of fascist groups, and of instances of antisemitism in the press. These files also include letters containing antisemitic abuse and threats, some of which had been sent directly to Orbach. The far-right leaflets and pamphlets in this collection demonstrate that many of the antisemitic conspiracy theories around on the internet today were also circulating in Britain in the mid-20th century.

Two open TAC scrapbooks

A scrapbook (TAC/2/1) showing TAC material from 1942; and a scrapbook of press cuttings from 1937 (TAC/7/2)

The creator of these files and scrapbooks (probably Orbach himself) also collected material on those who fought back, and many of the scrapbooks have been given the title ‘Anti-Fascist’. The press cuttings capture the activities of individuals and groups who protested at fascist events, and who broke up meetings of fascist groups. For example, this material covers the actions of those who confronted Mosley and the Blackshirts in the streets in the 1930s, and it also includes a file on the Yellow Star movement, who opposed Mosley and his Union Movement on the streets in the 1960s.

Although much of the material in this collection consists of newspaper cuttings, which have already been published, the fact that such a comprehensive collection of articles has been carefully arranged means that the scrapbooks could be a useful resource for researchers into fascism, antisemitism, and anti-fascist organising. The internal TAC archives on the other hand offer a unique insight into the activities of some of those who worked to counter antisemitism in mid-20th century Britain.

The catalogue description for the TAC collection can be viewed online via this page, by searching for ‘TAC’: https://archives.ucl.ac.uk/CalmView/

To make an appointment to view any of the files in the TAC collection, please contact us at spec.coll@ucl.ac.uk

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!