2016 retrospect

Heading into the Chinese New Year, Special Collections & Archives pauses to look back at another busy year of collecting, conserving, communicating and celebrating our rich and diverse resources.

  • January – SC&A started the year as formally part of Libraries, Museums and Galleries, looking forward to sharing curatorial expertise and exploring new collaborative ventures with colleagues in the University’s Museums and Galleries. The exhibition Utopia Calling: Eleanor Rathbone Remembered opened, we hosted visiting archivists from Japan, and we made great use of housekeeping week, including a programme of cleaning and reboxing some of our tiniest treasures. SPEC 2016 t1-01_3G-R resizing and cleaning 1 G-R resizing and cleaning 2
  • February – 24 Feb was Eleanor Rathbone day, with a memorial lecture; the Utopia Calling exhibition was advertised as part of a national Remembering Eleanor Rathbone programme; Andy Sawyer, our Science Fiction Librarian, was interviewed on Radio Merseyside; Cunard came to film items from their offical archive, and teaching classes got underway for the new semester, with enthusiastic students sharing their experiences on social media.
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  • March –- activities shared with our colleagues at the Victoria Gallery & Museum included a gallery talk on the Cunard Archive, and a talk on book conservation to accompany the Knowledge is Power exhibition on early Liverpool Libraries.
  • April – Professor Eve Rosenhaft and a colleague from Germany visited the Hanns Weltzel collections to prepare an exhibition on the Nazi persecution of Romani families and a session on ‘Using Primary Sources’ looking at case studies from University archives ran as part of Libary’s Researcher KnowHow training programme.GypsyNazi-4w
  • May – as part of LightNight VG&M visitors could meet a plague doctor and other characters interpreting the world of the Micrographia exhibition, SC&A mounted Something in the water? Liverpool and the Literary Fantastic: an exhibition on Liverpool science fiction and a busy Andy Sawyer was in demand for both LightNight and WoWfest’s History of Sci-Fi in 10 Objects.

LightNightSF_7

  • June – SC&A hosted BBC Radio 4’s My Muse who visited to record a programme with Professor Deryn Rees Jones and the singer/songwriter Kathryn Williams in the presence of manuscripts of Sylvia Plath’s poetry; a group visit from the HLF-funded project ‘history of place’ charting lives of the disabled through history to view resources relating to history of the Liverpool School for the Blind; and Ohio State University students studying science fiction. We welcomed sixth formers on work experience placements, and attendees of the Science Fiction Research Association and Current Research in Speculative Fictions conferences.
  • July – students from the other side of the Pacific – Sociology summer school students from Singapore – came to see a reprise of the Eleanor Rathbone exhibition.
  • August – the University Archivist, Jo Klett, worked hard over the summer on the migration and cleaning of data – 100,000 records – and arranging training in the new archives system EMu, in preparation for the launch next year of a new archives catalogue; items from the John Fraser collection were loaned to the  Richard Le Gallienne exhibition in Liverpool Central Library, advertised nationally and internationally.Fraser 248 sm
  • September – we welcomed three new members of staff at the beginning of the month: two Graduate Library Assistants, Beth Williams and Robyn Orr, and an experienced rare books cataloguer and children’s book specialist, Lucy Evans, who spent a busy week running the national Rare Books & Special Collections Group conference with SC&A Manager Jenny Higham on its first visit to Liverpool, including of course a visit to SC&A.

Margins and mainstream books display at the University of Liverpool Special Collections and ArchivesThe same week brought members of the Challenger Society to see some particularly well-preserved marine illustrations.

Challenger Society

  • October – SC&A’s Local Literary Landscapes exhibiton, curated by Special Collections Librarian Katy Hooper and Archives Cataloguer Josette Reeves, opened to promote the Liverpool Literary Festival – including 200 Years of Frankenstein with the indefatiguable Andy Sawyer in conversation with Miranda Seymour. The Reading Room was opened for the final University Open Day, following on from open days in June and September at which we welcomed potential students.
  • November – we were very pleased to welcome Lord Derby, President of the University Council, and to spread the word about our collections far and wide: Siân Wilks, Cunard Archivist, attended the UK Maritime Archives Initiatives Day at the National Maritime Museum; Andy Sawyer contributed to the University of Liverpool hub for the Being Human festival on the theme ‘Fears of the past, hopes for the future’ with a workshop on Olaf Stapledon; and Jenny Higham gave a presentation on careers in Special Collections & Archives for a University Career Insights session on heritage.
  • December – the #LivUniSCA Twitter feed featured a special #SCAdvent hashtag to brighten up the dark days at the end of the year.

Behind the scenes, the team has continued its work to make new accessions and newly catalogued collections available for research and teaching use, including early Liverpool printing, the Matt Simpson archive, and additions to the Cunard Archive. Find all these and more by searching the Archive and Library catalogues on the SCA website and browsing the accessions2016 tag.

Brush up your dance steps in the archives

In mid Summer Festival season, Special Collections and Archives can offer an unusual take on research in the Gypsy Lore Society archive,  which has been used to recreate traditional English folk dances and songs, as explained below by Simon Harmer.

An interest in step dance from the southern counties of England brought Jigfoot, musicians from Southampton with an interest in local traditional tunes, together with dancers Val Shipley, Janet Keet-Black , Peter Ingram and Jo and Simon Harmer. Alice Gillington’s Songs of the Open Road was discovered to be a source of song, music and dance descriptions from Hampshire. Michael Yates and Steve Roud’s excellent article ‘Alice Gillington: Dweller on the Roughs’ (Folk Music Journal 2006, Vol 9, No. 1) led us to the Gypsy Lore Society archive at Liverpool University.

 

Alice Gillington’s correspondence with GLS spans the years from 1907 until 1932. Her extensive correspondence with Scott Macfie is very descriptive of the two Romany settlements she became involved with, Botany Bay at Sholing near Southampton and Thorney Hill in the New Forest. The letters give background to the communities from which she collected the songs, music and dance. They have also been invaluable in helping to identify the characters in her book Gypsies of the Heath published under her pen name The Romany Rawny. In this book she describes painting a portrait of Ellenda Barney. Through a letter to Scott Macfie we know that her brother, John, photographed the painting and a copy was sent to the GLS. That photograph is pasted into one of Macfie’s scrap books.

Portrait by Alice Gillington in top left corner, in a scrapbook by Scott Macfie. SMGC 2/2/1 (52)

Portrait by Alice Gillington in top left corner, in a scrapbook by Scott Macfie. SMGC 2/2/1 (52)

 

The archive also contains correspondence with Amelia Goddard, a painter of Gypsy life who tutored Alice in art. Amelia lived in Thorney Hill and was the reason Alice moved there when she and her brother decided to live full time in a Gypsy caravan. We use some of her evocative paintings as projected images during our performance Hither Side of the Hedge. The Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society also contains a number of articles written by Alice. One of these ‘The House of the Open Door’ promotes Amelia Goddard’s art works and contains examples of her paintings.

 

The amount of material we have found in the archive of the GLS is enormous. In our performances we can only share a little of the background material to give context to the music, song and dance. Our joy has been to meet the families of the people she lived among and be welcomed to Thorney Hill to perform the songs, music and dance that she collected there. We finish our performance with this extract from a letter to Macfie:

‘I didn’t come back to the caravan till ten o’clock, as I was with the Sherreds and other children, in the green lanes and the green bushes watching them dance and sing, tho’ it grew as dark as a summer night can be. They then linked arms together and danced “The Keel Row”, singing, all along the road with me.’

A cover of the Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society with Alice Gillington as contributor. SPEC Scott Macfie J.1.11

A cover of the Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society with Alice Gillington as contributor. SPEC Scott Macfie J.1.11