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Special Collections content in new online collection: Pandemics, Society and Public Health 1517-1925

By Joanna C Baines, on 11 April 2024

Posted on behalf of Caroline Kimbell, Head of Commercial Digitisation:

In the aftermath of the Covid 19 pandemic, UCL has contributed around 12,000 images of rare books and original documents from our Special Collections to a prestigious new online teaching resource from British Online Archives:  Pandemics, Society and Public Health 1517-1925 launched this month (April 2024).

UCL content from 6 named Special Collections, the School of Slavonic and Eastern European Studies (SSEES), rare books from Stores, and the archive of Edwin Chadwick forms around a quarter of the new resource, alongside records from the National Archives, the British Library and London Metropolitan Archives.

Women wearing surgical masks during the influenza pandemic of 1919, Brisbane.

Women wearing surgical masks during the influenza pandemic of 1919, Brisbane.
State Library Queensland

Spurred by an all-too-understandable upsurge in research interest in pandemic history, the project focuses on primary sources relating to outbreaks of 4 diseases in British history – plague, cholera, smallpox and influenza. The academic call-to-arms for the project is summed up by editorial advisor Emeritus Professor Frank M Snowden of Yale: “Epidemic diseases are not random events that afflict societies capriciously and without warning… To study them is to understand [a] society’s structure, its standard of living and its political priorities”.

The online resource starts with documents relating to the first state-mandated quarantine in England, in 1517, but the earliest UCL items in the collection is a 1559 edition of William Bullein’s A newe boke of phisicke called ye gouernment of health. The project ends with the Spanish Flu epidemic which followed the First World War, on which UCL contributes a Ministry of Health Report on the pandemic of influenza 1918-1919 and a 1920 typescript Report on mortality among industrial workers, in relation to the influenza epidemic. UCL sources reflect the university’s preeminent focus on medical history, the development and application of vaccinations, and UCL sources are strong in campaigning, statistical and investigative works. Named Special Collections included in the selection include the Hume and Lansdowne Tracts, London History, Mocatta and Ogden collections, and material from our Medical History, Rare Books and SSEES collections are also included.

The main UCL archive represented is that of Edwin Chadwick (1800-1890), who began his career as secretary to UCL spritual founder Jeremy Bentham and was a lifelong campaigner for public health. He believed strongly that poverty was often the result of poor health, and poor health in turn was the result of poor living and working conditions, in particular sanitation. His lifelong campaigns, many focused on cholera, resulted in the passing of the first Public Health Act in 1848 and the establishment of the Board of Health, which he chaired until 1854. This digitisation programme includes selected reports, memos, statistics and 120 letters from his collection, with correspondents including Florence Nightingale, Lord Palmerstone and agriculturalist Philip Pusey.

The online collection is available now, and UCL library members will have access to the entire collection, which groups source materials into five themes: economics and disease, control measures, international relations, medicine and vaccination and public responses.

If you are a member of UCL Libraries, the new resource can be accessed by visiting our online Databases page and searching for ‘British Online Archives’. 

UCL’s Student Ephemera collection

By Leah Johnston, on 11 January 2024

Leah Johnston, Cataloguing Archivist (Records), shares details of a newly catalogued collection of student ephemera.

The Student Ephemera collection is a curated collection of manuscripts, publications, artwork, photographs, and objects, relating to the lives of UCL students, the Student Union, and members of UCL staff. The material dates from 1828 to 2002.

The collection was accumulated by UCL alum Dr Mark Curtin and donated to the Student Union, who in turn have deposited the material with UCL College Archives. Over the past year the collection has been fully catalogued and is now all available to view online.

A photograph of the front page of a programme for UCL's Foundation Week, dated March 1946. It includes a number of various signatures in black and blue ink.

UCLCA/SEC/A/2 Signed Foundation Week programme of celebrations, 1946.

The items within the collection are a representation of student life that complements and expands upon the institutional records held in the College Archive. It consists of a wide range of material, such as correspondence, programmes, tickets, newspaper clippings, leaflets, books, periodicals, photographs, and artwork. The collection also contains a significant number of objects including academic and sporting medals, and both UCL and Student Union branded memorabilia. A small number of items relating to the history of the university are also included, such as correspondence relating to its establishment, centenary publications, commemorative objects, and artwork.

The first series in the collection consists of manuscripts and records and contains items such as correspondence to and from students and staff, theatre and music production programmes, ephemera related to students’ sport, music and social events, newspaper clippings, a medical student’s notebook, and a University College Hospital [UCH] Socialist Society poster.

A scanned copy of a cutting from 'Melody Maker' newspaper advertising a Pink Floyd gig at UCL.

UCLCA/SEC/A/4: Cutting from ‘Melody Maker’ advertising a Pink Floyd gig at UCL, circa 1969.

Series two in the collection consists of publications either written by, or related to, past students and staff. There are also a couple of books which relate to the history of the university, along with some university produced publications. A small sub-series of articles taken from Pi Magazine, which were previously framed, are also included.

The third series comprises photographs and artwork related to UCL, the Student Union, and UCL students and staff. Included are some of the earliest photographs of the Wilkins building, portraits of Student Union presidents and officers, photographs of sports teams, plus various student association performances and events.

A black and white photograph of a group of UCL Dramsoc students during a performance of a play. They stand on the Wilkins' building Portico steps and are dressed in Medieval costumes.

UCLCA/SEC/C/1/21 Photograph of a Dramsoc play on the Portico, c.1947.

The remainder of the collection includes a large series of academic, sporting, commemorative and military medals, and a small series of objects. Included is a Botany Laboratory microscope, a silver cup awarded for first place in the UCH Athletic Club pole jump, a variety of UCL and SU branded memorabilia, such as a car bumper badge, silk tie, union badges and miniature ceramic models. One particularly interesting object in this final series is a Royal Doulton tyg cup which was awarded for first place in the UCH Athletic Club’s ¼ mile handicap race (pictured below). A tyg is a drinking vessel with three or more handles and is traditionally used for sharing a celebratory drink!

A photograph of a 1890 Royal Doulton tyg, or three handled cup, and two medals on an office desk.

Tyg awarded for the UCH ¼ mile handicap race in 1890, and two medals, in the process of being accessioned.

A considerable amount of the collection has formed part of the current Octagon Gallery exhibition, ‘Generation UCL’, which explores the lives of UCL students over two centuries and the foundational part they play to the story of the university. Mounted in the run up to UCL’s bicentenary celebrations in 2026, the exhibition also marks 130 years of Student’s Union UCL.

A photograph of an archway leading into the UCL Octagon Gallery. The archway is covered in copies of colourful UCL publication front covers.

One of the entrances to the Gen UCL exhibition, on now at the Octagon Gallery.

If you would like to further explore the collection it can now be viewed online at https://archives.ucl.ac.uk/ and by typing ‘Student Ephemera Collection’ into the search bar.

To make an appointment to view the records, or for any queries regarding the collection or the catalogue, please contact us at spec.coll@ucl.ac.uk.

To read more about the Generation UCL exhibition visit the exhibition project page.

Gaster Cataloguing Project: Part 2

By Katy Makin, on 22 September 2023

In our previous blog post we introduced our project to catalogue the archive of Moses Gaster, and looked at some of the letters sent to Gaster on topics as diverse as Sunday trading and Hebrew braille. In the second of our two posts relating to the project, Gaster Project Cataloguer Israel Sandman discusses Gaster’s charitable activities.

From the Gaster Archives: A Glimpse into Moses Gaster’s Charity Activities

By Dr Israel M. Sandman, Gaster Project Cataloguer

Moses Gaster was a multifaceted person. He was the chief rabbi of the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue in London, and, by extension, of all Spanish and Portuguese Jews’ congregations under the British Empire. He was a polymath academic scholar, with strong focuses on comparative folklore and linguistics. He was a key figure in the emergence of modern Zionism. And he was a go-to person for Jews worldwide, for help with their various needs and wants.

Charity Appeals to Gaster:

Daily, Moses Gaster received multiple charity appeals, some in the post, and some in person during his reception hours. While he donated from his personal funds to Jewish and other worthy causes, as seen in receipts, lists of donors, and gentle reminders to honour his pledges, what he could do from his own funds was a mere drop in the ocean of need.

[Image and Transcription of Receipt for Donation made by Gaster (file 131, item 44)]

UCL Special Collections, Gaster Archive, GASTER/9/1 [formerly file 131/44]

Royal Asiatic Society
22, ALBEMARLE STREET, W.
346
March 15, 1900
Received from Dr. Gaster the sum of One Guinea as a donation to the Medical Fund.
£1-1-0
[Signed] Secretary

Charitable Funds on a Community Level:

Addressing the vast needs faced by people in fincial hardship required charitable funds on a community level. Charitable funds established in the Jewish community enabled Gaster to help the Jewish individuals and worthy institutions that turned to him from Palestine, North Africa, elsewhere in the Near East, India, West Indies, Eastern and Central Europe, the East End of London, the length and breadth of Britain, and elsewhere. We shall examine two such funds, one of which was well established, and another of which was an ad-hoc fund set up to meet a specific need.

Case 1: Gaster Helps S. Edelstein via the Board of Guardians of the Poor of the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue:

Shalom Edelstein was a Romanian Jew residing in London’s East End, which at the turn from the 19th to the 20th century was the first place of settlement for many Jews from Central and Eastern Europe. Reading between the lines of Edelstein’s 21 March 1899 postcard to Gaster, written in ornate Hebrew full of allusions to classical Jewish literature, and in which he mentions his ill health, one gets the impression that Edelstein was more a man of the mind than a man of the body, and that he shared interests with his “landsman” Gaster.

London 21/4/99
כבוד הרב החכם הבלשן
סופר מהיר בלשונות החיות, רב ודרשן
לעדת הפורטוגעזים, בעיר הבירה לונדן,
והמדינה וע”א כש”ת מו[“]ה ד.ר. גאשטער נ”י.
הנני בזה לכתוב למ”כ
את רשומתי, כמו שבקש מאותי, אולי יאבה
לכבדני במכתבו, ומפני כי מעת ראיתי פני
כ”מ, לא נתחדש שום דבר, – רק שאני חלש
מאד, ואנני בקו הבריאה, עד כי בכבדות
אוכל לקום ממשכבי, – לכן אקצר
ואומר שלום.
והנני מוקירו ומכבדו כערכו הרם.
פ”ש, כשמי, – שלום
הן תוי ונוי
S. Edelstein
17 Winterton St.
Commercial Road, E.
Image of S. Edelstein’s 21 March 1899 Mostly Hebrew Postcard to Gaster (file 117, item 9)]
London 21/4/99

His honour, rabbi, sage, linguist, speedy scribe in living languages, rabbi and preacher to the congregation of Portuguese [Jews] in the capital city London and the [entire] country, and furthermore [possessor of] the ‘crown of Torah’, our Master Rabbi Dr Gaster, may his lamp shine!

I am hereby writing my address [Hebrew: רשומתי or רשימתי] to his honour, as requested by him. Perchance he will desire to honour me with a letter? On account of the fact that since I have seen his honour’s face, nothing new has occurred – aside from my being very weak: I am not keeping in good health, so much so that it is only with difficulty that I can arise from my couch – I will therefore be brief, and say ‘farewell’ [Hebrew: Shalom].

I hereby hold him precious and honour him, in keeping with his lofty worthiness,

Greetings of Shalom, in keeping with my name, Shalom [Peace], being my mark and my charm
S. Edelstein
17 Winterton St.
Commercial Road, E.

[Image, Transcription, and Translation of S. Edelstein’s 21 March 1899 Mostly Hebrew Postcard to Gaster. UCL Special Collections, Gaster Archive, GASTER/9/1. Formerly file 117, item 9]

Multiple Communications Between Edelstein and Gaster:

This was not their first communication. In the postcard, Edelstein refers to their having had a face-to-face meeting; and he notes that Gaster had asked him for his reshuma / רשומה [or: reshima / רשימה], presumably meaning his address. Presumably, this indicates that Edelstein had asked Gaster for assistance; and that Gaster was going to try and help him. Three days later, on 24 April 1899, Edelstein sent another postcard to Gaster, this one in Romanian. Apparently, to help Edelstein, Gaster turned to the charity board of the synagogue of which he was rabbi, the Board of Guardians of the Poor of the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue.

[S. Edelstein’s 24 March 1899 Romanian Postcard to Gaster (file 117, item 20)]

UCL Special Collections, Gaster Archives, GASTER/9/1 [formerly file 117/20]

The Board of Guardians’ Approval:

Nine days later, on the 3rd of May, Gaster received a memo from the Board of Guardians. They would cover Edelstein’s train fare from London to Liverpool, and his boat fare from Liverpool to New York. However, that cost £5, and they did not have anything additional to offer Edelstein. Although that would mean that Edelstein would arrive penniless in New York, the Board had reason to believe that Edelstein would nonetheless be admitted to the USA. It seems that Edelstein was permitted to enter the United States, for we have a long letter, in Romanian, which he sent to Gaster from New York. Towards the end of that letter, he updates Gaster about a certain D. Gottheil. The Gaster Archive contains letters to Gaster from a Professor Richard Gottheil, relevant to the writing of Jewish Encyclopedia articles and possibly to Zionism; but it is unclear whether there is a link from Richard to D. Gottheil.

Image of a letter of Approval by the ‘Board of Guardians of the Poor’ of the ‘Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue’ to Cover S. Edelstein’s Travel Expenses from London to Liverpool to New York (file 118, item 11


London May 3rd 1899

Dear Dr. Gaster,
re – S. Edelstein
With difficulty I succeeded in securing a passage for this man per “Tonfariro” which will sail from Liverpool on Saturday next. The fare came to £5 which includes railway fare to Liverpool so that I have nothing to hand over to the man. I am informed that by this line it is not necessary for him to have a certain sum of money in his pocket on arrival in New York.
Yours faithfully,
J.Piza

The Board
would do nothing
for Haham Abohab
J.P.

[UCL Special Collections, Gaster Archive, GASTER/9/1. Formerly file 118/11]

The Limitations of Working Through the Board of Guardians of the Poor:

In addition to the limits of what the Board felt capable of doing for Edelstein, at the end of their memo, the chairman adds an apologetic side note. He mentions that the Board did not approve a different request, for funding for a certain Hakham (rabbi/sage) Abohab. It is noteworthy that Edelstein was a Central / Eastern European Jew, while the name Abohab indicates a Jew from the Islamic countries. Although the Spanish and Portuguese tradition is more aligned with the traditions of the Islamicate Jews, the Spanish and Portuguese Board approved Edelstein’s request, not Abohab’s. This seems to indicate an objectivity on the part of the Board. It appears that the reason for the Board’s limits in giving was the fact that the Synagogue was experiencing financial difficulties; and in order for Gaster to carry out his wide range and full scale of charitable activities, he needed additional sources of funding, beyond those available through his own congregation

Letter refarding The Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue’s Financial Difficulties, 1900

UCL Special Collections, Gaster Archive, GASTER/9/1 [formerly file 131/85]

London E.C., 29th March 5660 1900

Dear Sir,
The Gentlemen of the Mahamad [executive committee] invite your attention to the Statements of Accounts of the Synagogue, and the Report of same for the year 1899, which have been circulated amongst the Yehidim [members] of the Congregation, & I have particularly to point out that the result of the year’s working shews a deficit of £595.-, and that the Elders have been compelled to sell out Capital Stock to meet this & other deficiencies accrued since 1895, amounting in the aggregate to £1608.-
This position, which is a very serious one, was duly considered by the Elders at their recent Annual Meeting, and they requested the Mahamad to take such steps as they might think necessary, to call attention, in the first instance  …

 

The Ad Hoc Fund for “Our Poor Roumanian Brethren”:

The Crisis of Romanian Jewry:

One additional source of charity funds, independent of the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue and its Board of Guardians, is an ad hoc fund that Gaster seems to have created himself. The fund is for ‘our poor Roumanian Brethren’, as described in Benjamin Ritter’s letter to Gaster, accompanying a cheque from a collection taken up in Vine Court Synagogue. At this juncture (around 1900), Romanian Jews were experiencing an unusual level of persecution, and were seeking to leave Romania. From all directions, individuals and institutions were turning to Gaster for solutions and financial help; and Gaster did respond.

Letter from Union-Castle Mail Steamship Company for Donald Currie & Co., Seeking Gaster’s Advice on How to Handle the Anticipated Increase of Jews Seeking to Emigrate from Romania, and Mentioning Gaster’s Involvement with the Issue (file 135, item 120)

UCL Special Collections, Gaster Archive. GASTER/9/1 [formerly file 135/20]

The Vine Court Synagogue:

The Vine Court Synagogue was a congregation of Eastern European Jews, in the Whitechapel section of London’s East End. As noted, the East End was the first place of settlement for many Eastern European Jews. Thus, this congregation would have had particular sympathy for the Romanian Jews, as did Gaster, who was a Romanian Jew, and who received many charity appeals from the community of his origin. Gaster’s relationship with the Eastern European immigrant Jews of the East End came to good use in his finding the best ways to help his Romanian brethren.

Image of the Letter from B. Ritter to Gaster, Regarding the Vine Court Synagogue’s Collection on Behalf of the Romanian Jews

UCL Special Collections, Gaster Archive, GASTER/9/1 [formerly file 135/81]

53 Parkholme Rd
Dear Dr Gaster
I am forwarding you a cheque for 23/- which I have collected at a meeting of the Vine Court Synagogue for our poor Roumanian Brethren. I have also paid 7/- for two weeks rent for a family. I have also arranged for the rent to be paid until she is sent away. I hope that will meet with your approval.
I remain
Yours faithfully
B Ritter

The Blaustein (Bluestein) Family and their Relocation from Romania to London:

Another Romanian Jewish party helped through Gaster’s efforts is the Blaustein (Bluestein) family. (The surname seems to have been anglicised from Blaustein to Bluestein.) While it would take further research to try to discover the source of the funds Gaster used to help them, and to piece together this family’s full story and the relationship between all the family members, the partial story that emerges from the documents below is worthwhile in and of itself.

Mrs. Ch. Bluestein was a Romanian Jewish widow. One of her sons had a disability. Gaster had helped the family, and now they were established in London. The son with the disability was gainfully employed. Another son, who was to be married, ‘also earns a nice living’. Mrs Bluestein writes to invite the Gasters to the wedding, and to express her gratitude to Moses Gaster.

Image of Personal Letter of Gratitude to Gaster, Accompanied by a Wedding Invitation (file 131, item 58)]

UCL Special Collections. Gaster Archive, GASTER/9/1 [fomerly file 131/58]

2 Virginia Place
Lower Chapman Str.
Commercail [sic] Rd E
London March 20 1900
Reverand [sic] Sir

I beg to enclose your invite for my son’s wedding. I hope you will come, as you was always a good friend to me when in need so I am happy to let you know of my joy thank God my son is doing a respectable match – and I hope you will live to see joy by your dear children in happiness with your dear wife I am the widow whom you helped to bring over the crippled son from Bucherst, he is grateful to you as he thank God earns £2 – 0 – – weekly – and is quite happy – and my son that is to be married also earns a nice living. We often bless you for everything & I am pleased to tell you of my joy as well as I did my trouble. With best respect, yours gratefully,

Mrs Bluestein

Printed Wedding Invitation Addressed to the Gasters, Sent by Mrs Ch. Bluestein. The Hebrew line at the top is from the prophecy of restoration in Jerimiah 33:11, and is used in the Jewish wedding liturgy: ‘A voice of joy and a voice of gladness, a groom’s voice and a bride’s voice’.

In Summary

Gaster was heavily involved in charity work, on a scale that required communal funding. Although the Board of Guardians of the Poor of the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue, Gaster’s congregation, provided funding for those beyond their own community, they were too financially limited to finance the full scope of Gaster’s work. Thus, we see that Gaster raised charity funds elsewhere, too. One example of this is Gaster’s ad hoc fundraising network on behalf of Romanian Jewry, which at the turn from the nineteenth to the twentieth century was undergoing strong persecution. We see how Gaster met this challenge, and we see the sweet fruit of his labour.

Blog post by Israel M. Sandman

Gaster Cataloguing Project: Part 1

By Katy Makin, on 20 September 2023

Deborah Fisher, Gaster Project Cataloguer, shares some of her work.

We have recently started an exciting new project to fully catalogue the archive of Rabbi Dr Moses Gaster (1856-1939) and make the collection more easily available for research. Supported by external funding, the project runs from August 2023 to March 2024, and two project cataloguers will be carrying out the work to sort, list and catalogue Gaster’s extensive correspondence.

The Gaster Papers is the largest and most significant Jewish archive collection at UCL Special Collections. The bulk of it is correspondence between Dr Gaster and a range of individuals and organisations across the Jewish and wider community. It includes both incoming letters and copies of outgoing ones, and comprises around 50 linear metres of material.

Gaster was a Jewish communal leader, prominent Zionist and prolific scholar of Romanian literature, folklore, and Samaritan history and literature, as well as Jewish subjects. Born in Bucharest, he was expelled from Romania in 1885 because of his political activities. He settled in Britain and was appointed Haham (spiritual head) of the Spanish and Portuguese Jewish community, and later also Principal of the Judith Lady Montefiore College in Ramsgate. He was a founder and president of the English Zionist Federation and played an important role in the talks resulting in the Balfour Declaration of 1917.

The archive also has wider significance beyond Moses Gaster himself and is an important resource for research into late 19th and early 20th century history, both within and beyond the Anglo-Jewish community. Gaster corresponded with a huge range of individuals and organisations: a biographical index of Gaster’s well-known correspondents for the period 1870-1897 includes nearly 400 names, including rabbis; Jewish, Christian and secular scholars; politicians; financiers; doctors and even royalty. He received correspondence from Britain, Europe, America, the Middle East, India, South Africa and Australia.

Letters from the archive

The letters received by Gaster cover a broad range of topics, such as aspects of Jewish law and religious practice, charity appeals on behalf of individuals and organisations, and meetings attended or publications produced by Gaster for various societies including the Royal Asiatic Society, Society of Biblical Archaeology, and Folklore Society. 

The samples below reflect the diverse nature of the correspondence, providing a glimpse into Gaster’s daily life and the tasks and responsibilities he undertook. 

Shopkeepers and Businesses

In a letter dated 28 August 1896, Gaster is invited to attend a meeting in support of the Jewish Master Bakers. The Sunday Observance Laws and the Bread Acts of 1822 and 1836 prohibited bakers from baking on Sundays due to the Christian Sabbath, but as Jewish bakers were also unable to bake and sell bread on Saturdays (the Jewish Sabbath), they would only have stale bread to sell during the limited trading hours on Sunday as well as on Monday morning. Many Jewish bakers did bake and sell fresh bread on Sundays in violation of these laws; this met with opposition from Christian bakers, who felt that it gave the Jewish bakers a competitive advantage. This tension led to Christian bakers reporting these Jewish bakers to the authorities, so that they would be prosecuted and fined. The letter below, written on behalf of the Jewish Master Bakers, invites Gaster to a meeting to discuss the matter.

Letter to Gaster from the Jewish Master Bakers regarding Sunday trading laws.

UCL Special Collections, Gaster Archive, GASTER/9/1

The restrictions on Sunday trading also affected other Jewish shopkeepers. The Gaster ephemera collection contains a flyer for a protest meeting against the “Sunday Closing of Shops and Markets Bill” in June 1906, at which Gaster was Chair. 

Flyer advertising a protest meeting against the Sunday closing of shops and markets, to be held on June 18th, 1906, with Moses Gaster in the Chair.

UCL Special Collections, Gaster Archive, GASTER/1/A/2/701

 

Hebrew Braille

Gaster was a highly respected scholar and linguist, and as such was asked by the National Institute for the Blind in June 1930 to serve on a commission for the development of a standardised Hebrew Braille code, to replace the regional variations already in existence. Furthermore, Gaster himself had lost his sight by this time, and so it may have been considered a matter of personal interest to him. 

Letter from the secretary-general of the National Institute for the Blind inviting Gaster to advise on the development of Hebrew braille.

UCL Special Collections, Gaster Archive, GASTER/9/1

Gaster responded that he would be willing to participate in this work, and that he had previously been involved in the preparation of an alternative writing system for Hebrew for blind users, albeit different from Braille. 

Copy of a letter from Gaster to the National Institute for the Blind, mentioning his sight-loss and agreeing to help with the development of Hebrew braille.

UCL Special Collections, Gaster Archive, GASTER/9/1.

Ultimately, Gaster does not appear to have been directly involved in the work of the Commission; it emerged that there could only be one English member of the Commission with knowledge of Hebrew, and that position had already been filled. But the National Institute for the Blind did continue to seek Gaster’s advice on the subject in a private capacity, as the letter below shows.

Letter from the National Insitute of the Blind asking Gaster to continue to provide them with the benefit of his knowledge and experience.

UCL Special Collections, Gaster Archive, GASTER/9/1

A broader discussion of the history of Hebrew Braille is found in the American Jewish Archives: https://sites.americanjewisharchives.org/journal/index.php?y=1969&v=21&n=2 

Blog post by Deborah Fisher, Gaster Project Cataloguer, UCL Special Collections.

 

Our next blog post later this week will continue to explore the Gaster archive, with an article by Gaster Project Cataloguer, Israel Sandman.

 

Galton Laboratory Records

By Sarah S Pipkin, on 7 September 2023

Leah Johnston, Cataloguing Archivist (Records), shares details of the Galton Laboratory archive.

Content warning: This blog includes details of records and objects that relate to racist, ableist and classist beliefs. The ideas within this material do not reflect the current views of UCL.

 

The Galton Laboratory Records form a collection of archives recording parts of the laboratory’s history, from its creation in 1904, up to the late 1990s. Much of the material was donated to UCL Special Collections in 2011, with some smaller accessions added since then. Over the past year the collection has been fully catalogued and is now all available to view online.

The origins of the Galton Laboratory at UCL can be traced back to 1904 when Francis Galton established the Eugenics Record Office in Gower Street, Bloomsbury. Although the laboratory was not officially part of the university at that time, a connection was formed with Galton endowing UCL with an annual £500 Fellowship of National Eugenics. In 1906 Professor Karl Pearson took over Directorship of the Eugenics Record Office, while still informally working alongside Galton. After Galton’s death in 1911, the residue of his estate was bequeathed to the university, under the condition that it was used to establish a Chair of Eugenics, whose role would be to direct research into ‘those causes under social control that may improve or impair the racial qualities of future generations either physically or morally’.

Sepia photograph of the Anthropometric Laboratory, South Kensington, 1884. Wood cases stretch into the distance.

GALTON LABORATORY/4/1/8 – Photograph of the Anthropometric Laboratory, South Kensington, 1884.

This early history of the laboratory is recorded in a series of administrative papers within the collection. Included is early correspondence between Galton, Pearson and P J Hartog (the then Academic Registrar), regarding their proposed scheme for a laboratory at the university, plus copies of Galton’s will and related planning for the establishment of a Chair of Eugenics. While these files include high level planning, other papers record more practical decisions, such as plans for the proposed new building. Below is an estimate for blinds to be supplied by James Shoolbred & Co. Ltd, including a small sample of green cloth.

Handwritten Estimate for blinds from James Shoolbred and Co., on lined paper. Pinned to the top left corner is a sample of green fabric, 1921.

GALTON LABORATORY/1/6/3 – Estimate for blinds from James Shoolbred and Co., including a sample of fabric, 1921.

Other series include papers accumulated by the laboratory, records of laboratory publications (such as the Annals of Eugenics, The Treasury of Human Inheritance and Eugenics Laboratory Memoirs), and research working papers.

Weldon pedigree mice schedule, consisting of several lines and charts showing the pedigree of individual mice.

GALTON LABORATORY/2/3/3 – Weldon pedigree mice schedule, 1905-1906.

The remaining series consist of photographs, artwork, audio-visual material, and objects.

Artwork in the collection includes portraits of individuals connected either to Galton, or to the laboratory, alongside early watercolours of scientific specimens and samples. It appears from related annotations that they were either displayed in the laboratory or were used in their publications.

Four watercolour illustrations. Two show close up images of the human eye. The other two show detailed illustrations of the interior of the eye.

GALTON LABORATORY/4/2/6 – Watercolour illustrations of human eyes, 1915.

A series of photographs are similarly varied and were also used in publications, displayed in the laboratory, or kept as reference material. Included below is an image of Francis Galton seated on his porch, with his servant standing behind him and holding his pet Pekingese puppy.

A damaged discoloured photograph. A man sits in front, wearing a broad brimmed hat and holding several papers in his hands. A man in a a butler suit stands behind him holding a small white dog.

GALTON LABORATORY/4/1/19 – Photograph of Francis Galton seated on his porch, with his servant Alfred Gifi, who is holding Galton’s Pekingese puppy, Wee Ling, c.1910.

This is contrasted against a more recent addition to the collection, which is one of three photographs showing women working in the laboratory in the early 1900s.

Black and white photo of two women working on desks in front of an open window. Sunligh is streaming through the window and the women seem to be processing skulls

GALTON LABORATORY/4/1/17 – Women working in laboratory, early 20th century.

Alongside other UCL Library and Culture collections, the Galton Laboratory Records help to form a fuller record of the history of the laboratory and in turn, its legacy at UCL. If you would like to further explore the collection it can now be viewed on our online archives catalogue and by typing ‘Galton Laboratory Records’ into the search bar.

To make an appointment to view the records, or for any queries regarding the collection or the catalogue, please contact us at spec.coll@ucl.ac.uk.

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.

 

 

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.

Hidden in Plain Sight: Why Liberating our Collections matters

By Sarah S Pipkin, on 20 April 2023

The following is by Rozz Evans, Head of Collection Strategy and co-chair of the Library Liberating the Collections Steering Group. It was originally published in the introduction to our 2023 Exhibition Catalogue “Hidden in Plain Sight: Liberating our Library Collections” and has been slightly edited for the purposes of the blog.

Striking cover of 'Black Orpheus 20' with an intricate pruple and black design

Black Orpehus 20, part of the 2023 Main Library Exhibition

UCL Library Services holds a rich and diverse range of collections containing almost two million printed items (alongside an extensive digital library). These collections comprise both Special Collections (a term that we use broadly to describe our rare books, archives and records)  and Teaching Collections. As Head of Collection Strategy, I work closely with our Head of Special Collections, Sarah Aitchison. We are responsible not only for the development, care and curation of our collections, but also for ensuring that we prioritise our effort and resources in the form of money, staff and space. An important aspect of this is our commitment to uncovering the hugely diverse material within our existing collections, enabling us to give a  voice to those who have been historically less visible.

As an institution, UCL has been very public about its commitment to addressing issues  around Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) for some years. Arguably the most high-profile work has been around eugenics, UCL’s part in  its history and its enduring impact.

However, institutional effort goes far wider than this. For example, UCL was one of the first institutions in the UK to set up its Liberating the  Curriculum project in 2016 to improve the inclusivity and diversity of its reading lists. One of the outcomes of this was a community of  practice, bringing together colleagues from across the university who are working in this area; this now has a broader remit than the original  project.

Cover of "Early Efforts by the Misses Moss of the Hebrew Nation, aged 18 and 16"

“Early Efforts by the Misses Moss”

It is this group that inspired the name of our Library Liberating the Collections Steering Group (LLTC), which we set up in July 2020 to plan, monitor and oversee our work in this area. We have developed an action plan based around three key themes of Description and Visibility,  Collection Policy and Communication and Engagement.

‘Liberating’ is a term that already has currency in UCL and beyond. It conveys an active approach to this work and its broadness  demonstrates how this group is working to uncover, identify and promote a more inclusive collection in relation to all under-represented  voices. This means that although there will be specific projects in the realm of decolonisation, for example, the remit is broader than race and  racism. We feel strongly that it is important not to use terminology such as decolonisation as a shorthand for wider issues around diversity and inclusion.

UCL Library Services’ collections were initially built from departmental libraries, gifts, donations and bequests, supplemented by some  purchases. In the library’s earliest accessions registers it is clear that the focus was on generating teaching collections and filling shelves. This meant that there was no strategic approach to developing a collection, and therefore was primarily reflective of the status of donors. This is  very different to how we acquire material today. This involves a much more selective, considered and proactive process, governed by clear  and transparent collection policies that are available on our website.

Cover of the New Tribe, which shows three abstract figures wearing crowns

Our newly reclassified copy of “The New Tribe”

This also means that in some cases – particularly in our older material – our collections tend to reflect historic bias and structural  inequalities in the university and in the society of the time. These include a normalisation of white, male, Western-centric theories, views,  experiences and opinions. This certainly does not mean that we do not hold material which relates to under-represented authors and  communities. However, it has become apparent that many of the systems and processes traditionally used by libraries in the curation,  management and description of the collections serve to perpetuate systemic bias and can make it difficult to discover this material. For example, the widespread adoption of international cataloguing standards, such as Library of Congress Subject Headings, makes it difficult to  challenge or change the use of outdated or discriminatory language in catalogue records.

We are also aware that our collections include content that is now considered discriminatory or harmful, and we must be explicit that its existence in our collections does not represent UCL’s current views.

Traditionally libraries have hidden behind ‘neutrality’ as a way of  preserving objectionable content without proper contextualisation, regardless of the harm it can cause to our academic and cultural  understanding of these items. However, their historical importance means that we cannot simply remove or delete such items from our  collections. Instead we are looking at how we can contextualise such material, acknowledging where necessary the harm these items might do to some of our users and alerting them to problematic content where we can. Pairing re-contextualisation with a celebration of previously ignored voices allows us to have a fuller understanding of our history and culture.

Cover of "Girls Education: What do you think?"

“Girls Education: What do you think?”, part of the Mariana Foster archives collection

Working in this space tends to require a lot of background research and reflection before any work can begin, much less before the books and other materials are made available for use. “Hidden in Plain Sight” does not represent a finished project, but sets the scene for ongoing investigation,  discovery and promotion. Staff and volunteers have been working for many months or years, and this will continue to be the case. In the next few years we hope that more of our collections – already full of interesting stories, diverse voices and differing perspectives on colonialism –  will be accessible to students, staff and researchers. “Hidden in Plain Sight” is thus a teaser of things to come.

We hope that this exhibition also embodies a spirit of hope and excitement, as well as an ongoing commitment to ensuring that UCL Library’s collections are truly reflective of the richness and diversity of our shared history.

For more information on the history of UCL Library Services, check out our 2019 Exhibition catalogue “From Small Library Beginnings: a brief history of UCL Library Services.”

Hidden in Plain Sight: Liberating our Collections” is on display in the Main Library Stairwell and 1st floor until December 2023. Exhibition items and catalogue are also available online.

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.

The New Curators Project 2023 is Open for Applications!

By Vicky A Price, on 14 December 2022

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

Apply now!

What is Cultural Heritage?

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

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

What will the project entail?

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

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

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

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

Participants who attend all the workshops will receive up to £550.

Who can apply?

Applications are open to people who:

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

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

Three young adults look at an archival map.

New Curators Participants scrutinising an historical map.

When and where is it happening?

Workshops will be ‘in person’ on Tuesday evenings from 6pm to 8pm, beginning on March 7 2023 and ending June 27 2023. There will also be three full day workshops on Friday 31 March, Thursday 20 April and Friday 26 May.

Workshops will take place at the UCL’s brand new East London campus:

UCL East
One Pool Street
London
E20 2AF

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

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

How do I apply?

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

The application deadline is 8.00pm on Saturday 11 February 2023.

Delivered in partnership with Newham Heritage Month.

‘Well really, have we come to that?’: Excerpts from UCL’s LGBT History

By Sarah S Pipkin, on 15 June 2021

Colin Penman, Head of UCL Records, writes about the internal documents that sheds light on the history of LGBTQI+ student life at UCL. 

 

In March 1972, Jamie Gardiner, a PhD student in the UCL Department of Mathematics, now a lawyer and human rights activist in Australia, founded the Homophile Society, or Gaysoc at UCL.  As far as we know, this was the first gaysoc to be founded in a UK university and affiliated to its student union.

This Thursday, 17 June, Dr Luciano Rila, who – appropriately – teaches in the Mathematics department, will give a talk on Zoom, ‘Gaysocs: a brief and incomplete history’ partly based on the registration file that is preserved in the College archive to help tell that story.

I don’t want to cover the same ground as Luciano, but thought it might still be interesting to share a few images from that file, and why we have these records (and why we don’t have others).

Regarded as an object, the file is as dull as every other UCL administrative file of its time.  It’s one of many others recording the registration of affiliated societies, the kinds of societies that students have always liked to form: political and social, serious and frivolous.  But this file is a bit different.  The title of this piece comes from a letter written by Dick Bishop, Head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, to the College Secretary, Arthur Tattersall, demanding to know ‘Who decreed that it is in the general interest that the College should be identified with sexual predilections in this way?’

Internal letter about the approval of UCL's 'Gaysoc'

UCLCA, Secretary 180/155 fol. 6

And J.T. Aitken, Professor of Anatomy, was ‘disturbed … I cannot understand why people should be allowed to make a parade of their aberration’.  Tattersall shared these concerns, and involved the Dean of Students, Professor Eric Brown, who wrote to the President of the Union, Pete Johns, about the ‘risk of offending individuals in the College’.  Fortunately, Johns declared his absolute opposition to suppressing Gaysoc, suggesting that the authorities should surely be more concerned about those societies that were based around socialism and anarchism, which are dedicated to ‘overturn[ing] the whole fabric of society itself’.

 

Discussion of the approval of UCL's Gaysoc

UCLCA, Secretary 180/155 fol. 15

As I’ve said, we have records of a lot of these societies, because there happened to be an established process for authorising them, which meant the central bureaucracy kept files meticulously, with reference numbers, information about who has consulted them, everything properly attached, and every page numbered.  They are usually very slim files, containing only one or two pages, just recording the foundation, subscription, office-holders and so on.  The Gaysoc file, on the other hand, contains a whopping 22 pages, and it’s not hard to see why: nobody cared much about the Northerners’ Society or the Brewing Society, but some members of UCL were definitely alarmed by the ‘Homophile Society’.

In other words, it’s only where there’s been some kind of trouble that there’s a bit more information.  And this is how an institutional archive like the College archive tends to work.  We have a lot of registers, minutes of Council and other administrative bodies, staff and student personal files and so on, because that’s our main function.  But there are other aspects of life at UCL that, in the past, we were never required to preserve, the unofficial side that would tell us more about how life was actually lived.  The Gaysoc file happens to contain a Freshers’ Week programme for 1972, which I think is unique in this series of files:

Gaysoc Freshers Week Programme

UCLCA, Secretary 180/155 fol. 7

It was originally preserved as evidence of ‘concern’ about ‘homosex’, but now it can tell other stories, about gay social life at this time, about links with the Gay Liberation Front and Campaign for Homosexual Equality.  We are lucky to have in the College archive other material that tells these unofficial stories of staff and student life at UCL: rag mags, periodicals, campaign literature, photographs.  But these have come to us in a really unsystematic way, sometimes without any context.  For example, we don’t know why we have a copy of this wonderful poster by Alan Wakeman, published by Gay Sweatshop:

Poster on 'What exactly is Heterosexuality'

COLLEGE COLLECTION C9

or this terrifying account of gay-bashing, in a 1976 leaflet:

Description of students attacked at a Gaysoc event

COLLEGE COLLECTION C9

We’ve recognised that this has implications about representation in the archive, that doing only ‘top-down’ collecting silences important voices and stories.  We have a rich collection in the College archive, but will certainly be doing more ‘ground-up’ collecting to ensure those voices can be preserved and heard for the future.

 

To learn more about UCL Records, check out their main pageTo book a ticket for ‘Gaysocs: a brief and incomplete history’ please visit their Eventbrite page

The New Curators Project is Open for Applications!

By Vicky A Price, on 18 January 2021

If you’re interested in applying for the 2022 New Curators Project, visit The New Curators Project 2022 is Open for Applications! Application deadline for the 2022 New Curators Project is midnight on February 28th. For more information, visit our page on how to apply.

 

The New Curators Project is a new programme by UCL Special Collections and Newham Heritage Month. It will offer 10 young people in East London the chance to develop the skills and experience needed to start a career in the cultural heritage sector.

UPDATE: The application deadline has closed. If you’d like to apply for the 2022 New Curators project, visit The New Curators Project 2022 is Open for Applications!

What will the project entail?

Successful applicants will receive training from industry experts in key areas such as carrying out historical research, creating an exhibition and engaging with cultural heritage audiences. Participants will also work together to create an exhibition for Newham Heritage Month. Using historical material from UCL Special Collections and the Archives and Local Studies Library in Stratford, the exhibition will be an opportunity for participants to gain real life curation experience for a public heritage festival audience.

We expect the entire project to take place online, with the possibility of face to face sessions towards the end of the project (this will depend on national and local restrictions.  Any face to face activity that does take place with be compliant with government guidelines).

Who can apply?

Applications are open to people who:

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

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

When is it happening?

Application close midnight on 12th February 2021.  There will be two online sessions per week, the first will be during the week of 1st March 2021 (date and time to be agreed with participants).  The final week of activity will be the week of 24th May 2021.

The project is running again durring the spring of 2022 – you can find more information on our page The New Curators Project 2022 is Open for Applications!

What’s in it for me?

We will be providing training in essential skills for working in the cultural heritage field, including:

  • How to carry out historical research.
  • How to use an archive.
  • How to create an exhibition.
  • Presentation and public speaking skills.

We are also offering a £200 bursary, paid in instalments, to support participants in attending as many of the workshops as possible.

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

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

What is Cultural Heritage?

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

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

How do I apply?

Applications for the 2021 New Curators Project are currently closed. If you’d like to apply for the 2022 New Curators Project, visit our page The New Curators Project 2022 is Open for Applications!

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

Among other skills, The New Curators Project will train participants in carrying out research, creating exhibitions and public speaking.

Questions?

You can send us an email at: library.spec.coll.ed@ucl.ac.uk.
Or, if you’d prefer to give us a call, you can call Vicky Price, Head of Outreach, on 07741671329.

The Foundation for Future London logo The logo for Newham Heritage Month

Liberating the Curriculum – A New Remote Volunteering Project

By Vicky A Price, on 24 November 2020

We are excited to announce a new remote volunteer project, starting in January 2021 at UCL Special Collections!

The project is part of our team’s work towards Liberating the Curriculum and is our first foray into digital, remote volunteer work. If you are interested in being a part of a project that widens all of our knowledge of, and access to, voices that might otherwise be under represented or under highlighted in our collections, please read on (and register here to attend an induction event)!

The Challenge

Four visitors and a member of staff stand over a table in UCL Special Collections' South Junction Reading Room, looking at collection items from our Poetry Store collection. The items are colourful and vary in format, some folded and with bold print, others non-standard sizes.

Staff and visitors inspecting items from our Poetry Store collection.

The Special Collections team are always working towards enabling access to the collection. This usually involves the acquisition, preservation, conservation, digitisation and cataloguing of rare books, archives and manuscripts. We also use the collection in teaching and outreach, deliver a reader and an enquiry service and provide as much digital access to the collection as possible.

Despite this work, we are aware that there are still many barriers (both physical and ‘invisible’) that prevent some users from accessing the collection and that prevent lesser heard voices in the collections coming to the fore: Historically, society’s most privileged have been most able to write and publish work, to collect rare materials and to create archives. The result is that stories from less privileged people – those of non-white ethnicity, women, those living with a disability or people who are LGBTQ+, for example – can be obscured or lost in the narratives mined from the special collections at UCL.

We know that we could do better, and want to make a start in this effort. A more focussed approach to researching the collection, and on communicating this research to collection users, could result in more diverse representation and in these lesser heard voices being more visible to collection users. However, our challenge is routed in the sheer size of the collection at UCL – we need your help to make this happen!

How to get involved

If you have an interest in historical research, librarianship, archives, representation in historic collections, or are simply curious about the project, please consider registering for one of our induction events.

Following one of these induction events, volunteers will be invited to sign up to a specific area of research – some examples could be searching for representations of non-European people and cultures in the Jewish & Hebrew rare books and pamphlets, Small Press collections and Folklore Society, or searching for early modern female book owners that are connected to our rare books.  Volunteers will be trained and supported throughout the project by a UCL Special Collections team member.

How much time do volunteers need to give, and what equipment will they need?
We are very flexible with regards to how much time volunteers can offer, and as this is a remote project, the required equipment amounts to a computer and internet access. If you would like to be a part of this project, but don’t have access to this equipment, or have further questions, please let us know by emailing library.spec.coll.ed@ucl.ac.uk, as we can offer further support for those who need it.

Register to attend an induction event here!