Thursday, 22 December 2016

November History Bakers: Lemony Biscuits

Ever since History Bakers was restarted two years ago, I’ve been fascinated by the oldest recipes in our collections. The challenge of deciphering, interpreting and then trying to follow these centuries’ old recipes has been exciting, but also a little frustrating!

This month's bake comes from a recipe book found within the Sykes Family papers and dates from the 17th century [U DDSY3/10/6].

Recipe and ingredients...

To make lemmon bisketts
To 2 pound of almonds blancht and beaten very fine with a litell orange flower watter putt the juice of one large lemmon and the pill of 3 beat very fine with the white of an egg beaten to a high froth then take 2 pound of sugar well dryd then strew it into the almonds just before you bake then squint it upon papers and bake then in an oven heated for manchets.

This time I thought I had chosen a fairly simple biscuit recipe and being an avid watcher of the Great British Bake Off, assumed I had the skills to follow the recipe without any major problems. This was a bit of a mistake...

I managed to buy all the ingredients, even the orange flower water was easier to find than I thought, but once home, I realised there were not enough ground almonds! Instead of waiting and buying more, I decided it would be fine and chose to wing it. Over-confidence is very uncharacteristic of me but I was still labouring under the impression it would be fairly simple. As such, I ended up with only 300g of ground almonds (not 2 lbs) and 300g of sugar.

Rolling out the dough...


As instructed by the recipe, I weighed out the almonds and put them to one side whilst I beat the lemon juice (1 lemon), lemon peel (1.5 lemons) and the egg white to as high a froth as I could manage with a manual whisk (I was attempting to be as historically accurate as possible). I then weighed out the sugar and mixed all the ingredients together. At this point, I realised that not only was the mixture very bitty (even finely ground almonds are not as smooth as flour) but it wasn’t sticking together to form a dough, and I had forgotten the orange flower water! Consequently, another half lemon was squeezed into the mixture, and lo and behold, the mixture became too sticky! Over-confidence strikes again! With no almonds left to try to reduce the stickiness, I gave in and got my plain flour out. A very liberal amount of dusting later, the dough was just about firm enough to roll out and cut into shapes.

Before the bake...

Into the oven...

As with all old recipes, there was no indication as to oven temperature or cooking time. To be on the safe side, I opted for 180C for 10 minutes. I then did a very good impression of Great British Bake Off contestants by staring into the oven for the full 10 minutes! By the 10 minute mark, the biscuits were going golden brown/slightly burnt on the outside but had remained fairly soft in the middle. Nervous of leaving them in too long, as they could end up entirely burnt, I took them out and let them cool down. In the end, the biscuits have turned out quite reasonably, with a crispy outside and soft chewy centre, which seems to have gone down pretty well with the taste testers at Hull History Centre.

The finished bake!

So, with a last note of over-confidence before returning to my normal self, it turns out you can practically ignore a recipe and still end up with something reasonably edible!

Colleagues comments:

Sarah - Crispy, chewy and very lemony. Lovely!
Caoimhe - Yummy, very lemony and chewy, fab after taste.
Elaine - Lovely lemony taste, quite chewy!
Laura - Great biscuits, delicious. Love the combination of crunchy edges and slightly chewy middle. Nice and lemony.
Elspeth - Great mix of texture, crunchy and chewy! Lovely lemon zesty taste!
Claire - Deliciously lemony! Please make more!
Christine - Agree with all the other comments. Delicious!
Tom - Nice lemony flavour, both crunchy and chewy.
Francisco - Really nice!!
Neil - Crispy and chewy. Loved them!

Verity Minniti, Archives Assistant

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

3D4ever Conference

I had the chance to attend the 3D4ever Conference event last week, a joint event by the Digital Preservation Coalition and Wellcome Library to encourage cultural heritage professionals to understand and undertake 3D scanning and its challenges.

Photometry workshop
I didn’t have too much experience in photometry and 3D imaging but I highly recommend it. It was amazing to see the immense range of ideas and projects discussed by the speakers and this made me realise how 3D imaging technology advancements have opened up so many opportunities for museums and the heritage sector. As professionals, we must study and promote this evolving technology because it brings exciting opportunities to research and also to engage in new ways with our audiences.

William Kilbride, Executive Director
of the Digital Preservation Coalition
I was inspired by the workshops and talks, and during the day I was developing ideas in my mind which I could take back to my own workplace and utilise in future projects. I think the key message I took home, which all the speakers touched on, was the challenges of creating, sharing and preserving 3D data. I found the whole day very productive, and especially the workshop about photometry given by Sophie Dixon and Edward Silverton which showed us a brilliant approach of how to set up a studio with the minimum amount of equipment necessary to complete the full 3D imaging process.

For me, one of the most striking statements of the conference came from Stuart Jeffrey from Glasgow School of Art, who said, ‘we need to have open access to data and share those experiences but it is important to find a balance between full access and low access.’

Stuart Jeffrey Research Fellow in International Heritage Visualisation at 
the School of Simulation and Visualisation of the Glasgow School of Art
Another key speaker was Helen Hardy, Digital Collections Programme Manager at Natural History Museum. Helen spoke brilliantly about the importance of data preservation and brought to the audience the challenge of joining up natural history data from around the globe.

For example, it’s important for archaeologists to share their findings. Anthony Corns technology Manager at The Discovery Programme showed us his 3D models of Ireland's iconic sites and objects.

After this amazing presentation, I realised the importance of this new technology in the study of material remains and how difficult it was few years ago to share these objects, until the arrival of new visual platforms like Sketchfab which gives instant access of the 3D models, creating a new experience for the public and allows archaeologists to compare objects instantly.

I can summarise the day with a good remark from one presentation: ‘Be as liberal as possible with 3D data, as great things can be done with it. Otherwise it'll go stale.’

You can find more information related to the conference through the 3D4ever hashtag 

Francisco Castanon
Transforming Archives trainee

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Fictional Hull and Hull in Fiction: Part 2

Welcome back to the second part of our LovetoRead blog. In the first part we showcased some of the bigger names to be found within our fiction collections. In part 2 we are going to take a thematic approach to delve a bit further and show off some hidden gems from our less well known authors...

Morality and Justice…
Dickens was not unique in using fiction as a vehicle to illustrate social injustices. An 1852 novel by Francis Ross, entitled ‘Edward Charlton: or life behind the counter. A tale illustrative of the drapery trade and the evils of the late hour system’, is a cautionary tale full of Victorian ideals of morality. Such moral tales were often given as Sunday School prizes, and were designed to illustrate the evils of drink and other vices. Another example of this can be seen in ‘The Struggles of Stephen Stedfast’ written by the Rev. George Shaw.

Some of our contemporary authors writing stories based in the city are very popular and, amongst these, crime novelists rank high on the list. Authors such as Nick Quantrill and David Mark are well known, both in the city and nationally. Both have created a central character who investigates a series of crimes which happen in and around the darker side of the city. If you like this genre, you should watch out for events involving Nick Quantrill, as he not only writes books but has participated in reading events at both the History Centre and Hull Central Library.

Historical Mystery…
If you like your crime to be mixed with history then Cassandra Clark might be for you. She has written a series of medieval mysteries inspired by Meaux Abbey. Her novels feature the Meaux Abbey abbess as detective and the first book, ‘Hangman Blind’ begins at Meaux before moving to York. Once you’ve read one, you might just have to read them all…

Family Sagas…
Family sagas are very popular with our regular users. The Second World War is brought to life in ‘Ada’s Terrace’ by Margaret King. The novel describes itself as ‘Hull: love and romance in wartime’, and is about the docking community and the difficulties of life during the bombing.

Two stories for the price of one…
If you enjoy stories featuring a challenge, Louise Beech’s ‘How to be Brave’ might be for you. This novel tells two stories; that of Colin, a merchant seaman during World War II who is adrift in a lifeboat with some of his shipmates, and  that of his great granddaughter aged 10, who is diagnosed with diabetes. This part of the story is set in the present day and as the family struggles to cope the story of Great Grandad Colin is told until both stories blend together to give an impression of ‘family’.

We hope this has piqued your interest enough to want to find out more. So if you didn't last time, go explore our titles for yourself! You can find them by searching the History Centre Catalogue under the reference L.823. And happy reading!

Elaine Moll, Librarian and Archivist

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Fictional Hull and Hull in Fiction: Part 1

This autumn, 2016, the BBC along with the Society of Chief Librarians has been running a ‘Love to Read’ campaign throughout the country. You might have seen some of the radio and television programming already.

Here at the History Centre we thought we would join in and take this opportunity to give you a taster of some of our fiction books. Yes, we do have fiction as well as our vast array of books on the local area! 

The scope of our collection extends to books set in Hull and the surrounding area, and covering all aspects of life. Whilst reading a good novel is always enjoyable, don’t you find you can engage with a book more if you can directly relate to either the subject matter or the setting? Lots of our fiction books use local figures, stories and street names, and evoke intriguing images of Hull in print. 

Our collection ranges from 1813 to the present day, with a good many books from the 19th century. Just some of the topics covered include morality and justice, crime, historical mystery, and family sagas.

Some of our authors are already well known and loved in Hull...

Daphne Glazer, born in Sheffield, was long ago adopted by the people of Hull as their own. Many of her stories have been set in Hull, like 'Goodbye Hessle Road' and 'Three Women'.

Winifred Holtby is another local literary celebrity you've probably heard of. She was responsible for 'South Riding' which has been made made into a TV series on two separate occasions. However, there are some other titles by Holtby you might like to try. 'Anderby Wold', for example, and 'The Crowded Street', which was allegedly based on Cottingham.

Then of course we have Val Wood, nationally famous author within the 'family saga' genre. Very popular with our regular users, Wood's books include 'The Door Step Girls', 'Rich Girl, Poor Girl', and her latest book 'No Place for a Woman' which begins in 1897 and is mostly set during WWI.

As for the less well known local authors within our collection, you will have to join us again next week for part 2 of this blog to find out more. In the mean time you can explore our titles for yourself, by searching the History Centre Catalogue under the reference L.823. And happy reading!

Elaine Moll, Librarian and Archivist

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Hull History Centre secures a National Cataloguing Grant Award

From Dock Company to Humber Ports: Records of the Humber Ports of the British Transport Docks Board, 1772-1982

Hull History Centre has secured £37,000 from the National Archives National Cataloguing Grants Programme to employ an archivist for 15 months to catalogue the extensive records of the Humber Ports of the British Transport Docks Board, later known as Associated British Ports. 

As well as the growth of the ports, once catalogued this collection will offer an invaluable study of the development and influence of the railways and the role they played in urban development during the nineteenth century. 

The extensive drawings of the docks and dock installations allow an almost full impression to be gained of the development of the port from 1778 to 1914, supplementing the surviving industrial archaeology.

St Andrews Dock (Ref CTSP/3/623-8)
St Andrews Dock (Ref C TSP/3/623-8)

Important for the understanding of the history and development of Hull and the wider Humber region, this collection includes records relating to:
The Hull Dock Company
The Humber Conservancy Commissioners and Board
The ports of Goole, Grimsby and Immingham
The Aire and Calder Navigation
The Dock and Harbour Authorities Association
Hull and Barnsley Railway
Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway
North Eastern Railway/London & North Eastern Railway/Waterways and Ports

Critical to the understanding of the growth and development of the Port and City of Hull, this project will allow us to catalogue the wealth of resources held within the collection and encourage use of it for personal study or academic research.

We hope to start the project by spring 2017 and will post regular updates on our progress.

Carol Tanner
Access and Collections Manager, Hull City Archives

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Basecamp Week

The National Archives building, Kew, Richmond
Earlier this month we travelled down to The National Archives, near Kew Gardens. This is the official home of the UK government archives and holds over 11 million records in its collection, from 10th Century manuscripts to copies of government websites, and just about every kind of document and record in between.

The basecamp was the first opportunity to meet all of our Transforming Archives cohort in one place as our host archives are spread all over England and Scotland. Getting to know the trainees over many coffee breaks and dinners brought home just how diverse a group we are – our backgrounds range from photography to maritime engineering to TV production, all now bringing these skills to the archive sector.

In the National Archive reading rooms,
even the reference directories are historical documents.
The training week consisted of five days of talks and workshops from National Archive curators on the theory behind acquiring and maintaining a collection, and conversations with archivists willing to share their experiences on recent projects. 

Mixed in amongst the professional skills development was plenty of advice and support for personal development coaching that will help our careers long after the traineeship is over.

Behind the scenes in the
National Theatre props department
We were also able to visit other archives around the city to see how they cope with the specific challenges faced by their collections and their circumstances. Our first visit was to The National Theatre Archive – a small collection, but one that comes with its own special challenges. A large chunk of the archive is made of bulky props, posters and stage models which need specialist care and which don’t fit into a “normal” archive structure. The National Theatre Archive also holds a vast collection of audio-visual recordings stored on all kinds of film reels, cassettes, DVDs and video files. Digitising and cataloguing these collections is a continuously transforming process as hardware and software change or become obsolete; talking to the archivists (including Pavel, one of last year’s Transforming Archives trainees!) we better understood the problems the archive faces to preserve these materials in the best and longest-lasting formats.

Samuel Rolle’s account of the Great Fire of London, written in 1667.
The next day included a visit to the London Guildhall Library, probably the oldest civic library in the UK. Its collection is dedicated to the history of the city as well as its legal and business records.

The Guildhall also houses the new City of London Police Museum, which was set up after the closure of the City of London Police’s own small museum. We spoke to the librarian and manager at the Guildhall Library that put the exhibition together, and who explained the process of creating the exhibition with limited space and limited time. They showed us the results of a collaboration with the nearby design school to create 3D replicas of weapons that the police would not normally allow on public display.

An introduction to reading medieval manuscripts.
Probably the biggest advantage of the basecamp was that we could see first-hand the work going on in archives much different to the Hull History Centre – from small, focused institutions like the National Theatre Archive to the vast public repositories of the National Archives. 

Big or small, the recurring theme amongst every archive we visited was the drive to make their collections accessible to the public through direct outreach and through digitising the records.

It was really great to meet all the archivists, record managers and curators at The National Archives and to speak with them about both upcoming projects at the Hull History Centre, and our future careers in the archives sector.

This basecamp has given us plenty of new ideas and approaches which we can use at the Hull History Centre, and to see where we can take the centre’s collections in the future. We can’t wait to meet up with the cohort again at the Edinburgh basecamp in March 2017!

Tom Dealey and Francisco Castanon
Transforming Archives trainees

Thursday, 10 November 2016

October History Bakers: Shrewsbury Cakes

October was my turn to make something for History Bakers, and I decided to make Shrewsbury Cakes. I found the recipe in our collection of Sykes family papers. Not being much of a baker myself, my choice was based solely on the apparent simplicity of the recipe:

Recipe taken from 18th century recipe book [U DDSY/104/54]
Transcription: Take a pound of fresh butter, a pound of double refin’d Sugar sifted, a little beaten mace and 4 Eggs, beat them all together with your hands till it is very light, then put thereto a pound and 1/2 of Flower and roul them out into little Cakes.

How hard could that be? I decided to halve the quantities in the recipe, as I didn’t feel I needed a kilo and a half of biscuits, and gathered my ingredients (I didn’t have any mace so I used nutmeg instead). I also gathered my bat-shaped biscuit cutter in homage to Halloween.

Ingredients required

I creamed together the butter and sugar, mixed in the eggs and nutmeg, and added the flour. I wasn’t sure how much nutmeg to use so went for “until I got fed up of grating it”, as I was concerned that the biscuits would be a bit flavourless. As it turned out, “until just before I got fed up of grating it” might have been better, as they did come out rather over-represented in the nutmeg department.

At this point I surveyed the mixture and realised that my lack of experience in biscuit-making was about to trip me up. I can’t recall making any biscuits since my school days, which are some time ago now, and I had no idea what the mixture was supposed to be like. What I had was akin to a thick cake batter, and there was no way I was going to be able to 'roul' it out into little cakes, let alone cut it into little bats.

I should probably have asked the internet what to do next (can one live chat with Mary and Paul?) but instead I ploughed on, adding more flour to try and produce a rollable dough. Eventually I was successful, and used my bat to cut out 26 biscuits. I baked them on gas mark 4 for about 20 minutes per batch. They were then left to cool on a wire rack.

Hot out of the oven!

Inspired by my regular watching of The Great British Bake Off, but entirely unencumbered with skill, I had decided to ice the bats with suitably spooky Halloween patterns. I shall gloss over what happened next as it is all too painful, but suffice to say the sorry episode ended with me squeezing orange icing from the piping bag straight into my mouth in a bid to hide the evidence.

The final biscuits taste strongly of nutmeg (my fault) and have a dense and rather chewy texture (probably my fault, although may have been the recipe). They do make quite an acceptable snack though.

Ready to be eaten in the staff tea-room!

If you’ve been inspired by this post to make your own Shrewsbury cakes, may I suggest making a nice Victoria sponge instead? But if you insist, here is my updated recipe:

225g sugar
225g butter
450g (ish) flour
2 eggs
some nutmeg

Cream the butter and sugar together, then mix in the beaten eggs and nutmeg. Add the flour, and keep adding more until you get a dough you can roll out to about 0.5cm thick. Cut into shapes of your choosing. Bake the things at 180C/gas mark 4 for 15-20 minutes or until they look cooked. (I think maybe they should be turning golden at the edges? Not really sure.) Cool on a wire rack, then eat. Icing optional, based on inclination and skill.

Verity: Subtle flavour, lovely biscuit :)
Laura: Crisp and crunchy, perfect with a cup of tea
Claire: Perfect biscuit texture, delicately spiced
Elaine: Lovely spicy biscuit
Elspeth: Good biscuity texture and crunch but not a great deal of taste
Paul: Right crunchy with subtle undernotes!
Pete: Very nice with a hint of nutmeg

Sarah Pymer, Assistant Archivist (HUA)

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Police Leadership, Then and Now

Cataloguing of the ACPO papers is now over 95% complete, and in order to celebrate and promote the collection last Friday the History Centre hosted a small conference in conjunction with the University of Hull’s Centre for Criminology and Criminal Justice (CCCJ). 

The day started with Clive Emsley, Professor of History at the Open University and author of many books on the history of the police, talking about the first hundred years of police leadership. He touched on some characters who will be appearing in his new book, Exporting British Policing During the Second World War: Policing Soldiers and Civilians. Doctor Sarah Charman, from the University of Portsmouth spoke about her past research into the emergence of the ‘senior police voice’ during the late twentieth century illustrated by the transition from private, to public through to a persuasive phase. 

After lunch Professor David Wall of Leeds University, author of The Chief Constables of England and Wales: The socio-legal history of a criminal justice elite (1998) spoke about the recruitment of police leaders, and shifting expectations into the late twentieth century.

The day ended with a lively panel discussion, chaired by Doctor Simon Green of CCCJ, and featuring Claire Davis whose PhD research is concerned with senior police officers’ understanding of police leadership, Doctor Chris Williams of the Open University, an expert in police history and the long-term evolution of policing practice, Doctor Mark Littler of CCCJ whose research interests focus on extremism, radicalisation, counter-terrorism policy and trust in the criminal justice system.

At least ten different Universities were represented by delegates at the event, and the interest in the collection was great to see. Delegates also had a chance to look at a display of material from the ACPO archive and many promising to make a return visit to Hull once the cataloguing is completed and the collection publically available.

It also marked my final day at the History Centre, and felt like a fitting end to the project. It’s been a real privilege working with the collection, and I look forward to the catalogue going live in the new year. 

A piece about the ACPO archive was also written for the Archives Hub blog

Alex Healey
ACPO Project Archivist

Friday, 14 October 2016

DCDC16 Conference Blog

Earlier this week we started our adventure with the National Archives and Hull History Centre. We travelled to Salford Quays, ‘the Venice of the North”, to attend DCDC16 – Discovering Collections, Discovering Communities 2016. This two day conference brings together hundreds of delegates and experts to discuss how to maximize the potential of our heritage collections.

Transforming Archives trainees at DCDC16
DCDC16 gave us the opportunity to not only discover the challenges that the archive sector is facing, but also show us the huge variety of ways in which archives and museums can utilise their collections and translate this into social, cultural, and economic impact.

It was also great to be able to meet the rest of our cohort, to get to know them in person and see the wide variety of backgrounds that Transforming Archives has brought together from all over the country.
A panel session in full flow 

Among the panels and workshops we saw many varied projects from different organisations that are trying to connect their archives with a new audience. For example, the Know Your Place is a digital mapping project which connects historical maps with modern communities. Poetic Places is a free app that brings poetry and historical records together and creates a dialogue between the archive collections materials and its original locations. The Cambridge Community Heritage programme was a clear example of how to engage local community into heritage and archaeology, as the director Professor Carenza Lewis explained how the CCH programme spoke directly to local groups and got them involved at every stage of the project.

On the train back home we had lots of ideas and thoughts about the last few days, remembering our excited conversations with our colleagues and thinking about how we can take these experiences and apply them to our own projects and ideas at the History Centre - watch this space!

Francisco Castanon and Tom Dealey
Transforming Archives trainees

Sunday, 9 October 2016

World Post Day - 9th October 2016

In my mind, there’s nothing quite like a handwritten letter. Text and email may be quicker and easier, but I just can’t imagine them acquiring the same level of fascination in years to come, that an old handwritten letter can generate today. The Hull History Centre holds an endless array of correspondence, including emails, faxes, typed letters and handwritten letters, across many different collections. Correspondence stored in the archives ranges from formal business communiques to private love letters, and to mark World Post Day, I would like to highlight three of our collections which contain significant correspondence. 

The Papers of the Sykes Family of Sledmere contains hundreds of handwritten letters by Sir Mark Sykes (1879-1919). Mark Sykes was a writer, traveller and soldier, but is perhaps most famous as a politician and the co-creator of the Sykes-Picot agreement (1916); an agreement that continues to shape the Middle-East to this day. He was a crucial figure in Middle-East policy making during the First World War and his papers are a very rich source of material for research in this area. His correspondence includes over 400 letters to his wife, Edith, many of which are illustrated with hand-drawn cartoons, as well as official correspondence relating to the war in the Middle-East. The wartime material includes various notable items such as, a draft of a letter from Mark Sykes to Winston Churchill which indicates his strong support for the idea of a Dardanelles offensive at a time when Churchill was trying to convince the War Council of its viability. There are also reports on such issues as the pan-Arab party in Syria in 1915 and the Armenian question, as well as telegrams from Arthur Balfour and many papers relating to Mark Sykes’ work with F.G. Picot for an Inter-Allied settlement in the Middle East (the Sykes-Picot agreement). Material from his Middle East mission of 1918-1919 includes 85 letters, more than half of them about the Armenian massacre of 1915 and refugees. 

Cartoon from U DDSY2/6/32

We also have an extensive collection of the correspondence of Poet and Librarian, Philip Larkin. He was a keen letter writer and kept up regular correspondence with his family, friends and colleagues. Some of the more well-known names that appear amongst Larkin’s letters include: Kingsley Amis, John Betjeman, Cecil Day-Lewis, Douglas Dunn, Seamus Heaney, Andrew Motion and Margaret Thatcher. Larkin wrote on all manner of topics, from the publication of his books, library work and personal matters. One particularly interesting file (U DPL31/12) contains 34 letters, dated between March and April 1968, on the subject of proper forms of address. This correspondence was initiated by a letter from Larkin to The Times newspaper and developed into an entertaining series covering the use of Christian names in letter-writing, the Americanisation of English, and the use of the title 'Mister' for convicted criminals.

Larkin in his office at the Brynmor Jones Library, University of Hull

The Hull University Archives also holds various collections relating to politics and pressure groups, including the papers of the pre-eminent civil rights barrister, John Platts-Mills QC. Born 1906 in New Zealand, Platts-Mills moved to the UK in the 1920s. He joined the Labour Party in 1936 and remained committed to the causes of the Left throughout his life, even at times being suspected by authorities of holding communist sympathies. In 1945 he was elected Labour MP for Finsbury but was later expelled from the Party for helping to organise a petition in support of Pietro Nenni, an ally of the Italian Communist Party. After his expulsion he returned to working as a barrister, having been called to the Bar in 1932. He established himself as one of the country’s leading barristers and became noted for his mastery of courtroom theatre as well as for his defence of such infamous clients as the Great Train Robbers and the Kray Twins. His correspondence, held at the History Centre, covers both personal and professional matters and is sometimes accompanied by related press cuttings and printed material. The material includes items relating to his support for various left-wing campaigns and associations, as well as his well-known cases, including that of the Kray Twins.

Portrait of John Platts-Mills [U DPM/3/29]

Handwritten letters and other types of correspondence can be found in abundance amongst the collections of archives across the country. They form part of the valuable evidence, retained for posterity, of past actions and events, as well as providing unparalleled insights into the minds of the correspondents. Long may the handwritten letter continue and Happy World Post Day!

Verity Minniti, Archives Assistant

Thursday, 6 October 2016

National Poetry Day at the History Centre!

Inspired by our collections whilst preparing for a talk, I thought the History Centre should contribute a little something towards National Poetry Day on the 6th October.

Hull has had a strong association with poetry down the years. Home grown talent famously includes the seventeenth century poet Andrew Marvell, author of ‘To His Coy Mistress’ which many of us will have studied at school. A twentieth century example can be found in Stevie Smith, noted for her illustrative talents as well as her poetic ones. 

Perhaps though, Hull is better known as a city that becomes a home to poets from elsewhere, attracting them in and holding them captive (in a poetic rather than illegal way). In this category we have the likes of Douglas Dunn, Sean O’Brien, Peter Didsbury, Andrew Motion and, of course, Philip Larkin.

But this blog is not another exhibition of worthies with Larkin as the star…. Instead, I want to highlight one of the unsung gems we hold here at the History Centre.

Amongst the papers of the Forbes-Adams family held in the University Archives, there is a fantastic series of letters sent by WWI British soldiers who, having been sent home as invalids, were being cared for at Lady Lytton’s Hospital, Charles Street, Berkeley Square, London [reference number U DDFA3/6/32]. 

Hidden amongst the letters is an inconspicuous looking scrap of lined paper. But on this scrap is a remarkable snapshot of trench life captured in poetry. We know very little about the poet. We have no name, no age, we don’t even know the exact date of the poem, other than to say it was written sometime between 1915 and 1920.

Whilst many might not consider it to be poetry of the highest calibre, it succeeded in both amusing me and provoking thought about the conditions associated with life in the trenches during WWI. Read it for yourself, what does it make you feel…  

Poem entitled 'My little wet home in the Trench' [U DDFA3/6/32/126]

Claire Weatherall, Assistant Archivist HUA

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Two new Transforming Archive trainees

This week we welcomed two new Transforming Archive trainees who will be working on developing their skills in digitisation, digital preservation and outreach.  We have asked them to introduce themselves:

I’m Tom Dealey I originally qualified as a structural engineer at Liverpool University, but through my experiences as a website developer for local heritage organisations, as well as volunteering at the HHC and the Ferens Art Gallery, I have decided to swap careers and move into archives and conservation work. This traineeship is the perfect opportunity for me to not only use my project management and IT skills in a new setting, but also to gain a huge amount of hands-on experience and learn specialist archival skills and technology. I am very keen to learn more about the latest technology that is being introduced into this field and how it will affect the future of archives. 

I’ve been able to quickly settle in at the HHC, mainly because I was already friendly with many of the staff from my previous work as a volunteer here. Expect to see regular updates on the blog about the work I’m undertaking over the course of the next year.

Francisco (left) and Tom enjoying a tour of the Conservation Suite at the History Centre

I am Francisco Castanon I hold a BA in Media & Audio Visual Communication Studies and Journalism from Universidad Europea de Madrid and I spent my last two years of university in Istanbul where I was selected to the Erasmus Mundus Programme in Photography and International Journalism.  

A few years ago I was awarded the Leonardo da Vinci grant, which gave me the opportunity to move to London, working as a Journalist with the Leonardo da Vinci programme (European internship abroad) at The Prisma, a Latin American bilingual newspaper based in London. During that time and due to my passion for the preservation of books, manuscripts, maps, drawings and nature, I decided to volunteer in different organizations like Lebrecht Music and Arts Photo Library, the Natural History Museum – Special Collections Library, the Imperial War Museum Photograph Archive and The National Portrait Gallery’s Heinz Archive and Library.  

I am sure this opportunity will help to meet really interesting people, learn new skills and improve my knowledge about the archive sector. 

Thursday, 29 September 2016

World Heart Day!

On the 29th of September we mark 'World Heart Day', held by the World Heart Federation to raise awareness of heart related diseases. 

At the History Centre we thought we would take this opportunity to show some of the highlights from a collection of love letters we hold here, written by a man named Victor Weisz. If you enjoy the blog and want to find out more, the collection reference is U DX165 and you can come and look at the letters in our searchroom. 

Victor Weisz was born in Berlin, Germany, in 1913 to parents of Hungarian Jewish origin. Weisz studied at the Berlin School of Art where his proficiency with a pencil and sketch book were evident. By the age of fifteen he was producing caricatures of great skill, and his work began to appear in various German newspapers.

With the rise of the National Socialism movement in Germany, and the Nazi regime's extreme antisemitism, Weisz adopted a strong anti-Nazi position. Consequently, he left Germany for Britain in 1935, where he remained and would later become a British citizen in 1947.

He continued to work as a political cartoonist in Britain, and his cartoons appeared in a number of newspapers. He built a reputation as an incisive commentator on political events. In 1941, he became a cartoonist at the News Chronicle, and subsequently went on to work at the Daily Mirror, Evening Standard and New Statesman. By the 1940s, he had adopted the pseudonym 'Vicky' and was appointed as the chief political cartoonist for the Daily Mirror in 1954.

He famously portrayed Harold Macmillan as 'Supermac' which, although intended as a slur, actually helped Macmillan increase his majority in 1959. Weisz, however, suffered from depression and insomnia and committed suicide in February 1966.

The 269 letters are a mixture of tender love letters and more general letters about a variety of subjects, sent by Weisz to his wife, Inge. The notes are generally of a personal nature and were often written in response to a note left by Inge for Weisz. Many are simple but heartfelt expressions of his love for Inge. Others are birthday wishes or messages to mark celebrations such as anniversaries, the couple's wedding, and Valentine's Day. Several notes refer to Weisz's health, others are thank you notes sent to Inge following a wonderful evening or weekend. Many contain comments on day-to-day happenings and details such as the weather.

In all of the letters, Weisz includes a cartoon illustrating some detail from the content of the missive. Usually these cartoons are comic depictions of Weisz and/or Inge, sometimes in animal guise. Other cartoons illustrate small details such as the day's weather. The cartoons are so brilliantly drawn and wonderfully amusing that it was difficult to choose just a few to share here. I hope you enjoy the selection.

Verity Minniti, Archives Assistant

Monday, 26 September 2016

Prudential Assurance Company Limited – A Hull Wartime Tragedy

Outside of London, Hull is thought to have been the most heavily bombed city in England during the Second World War. One of the worst German air raids on the city occurred in the early hours of 8 May 1941. Bombs rained down on the city centre and many lives were lost and buildings destroyed. 

One of the most well-known tragedies of this particular night of bombing was the destruction of the offices of the Prudential Assurance Company Ltd in Queen Victoria Square. After heavy bombing in the early hours of the morning, the Prudential building was left a smouldering ruin. Only the tower remained, leaning at an angle. This photograph, taken after dawn on the 8th May, shows the tower of the building standing at an angle, alone among the ruins, and has become an the iconic image of the Hull Blitz. The tower was demolished for safety reasons the following day.

Prudential Tower prior to demolition after sustaining heavy bomb damage [C TSP.3.387.27]

The discovery of the remains of the building during the recent redevelopment of the city centre, and its excavation by Humber Field Archaeology, has prompted us to look at the bombing again, and try to answer some remaining questions surrounding the events of the 8th May.

The Hull offices of the Prudential Assurance Company were built in 1904 to designs by the Prudential’s favourite architect Alfred Waterhouse, on a corner site at the southern end of the newly developed King Edward St. The focal point of the building was Waterhouse’s trademark tower, which dominated what was then known as City Square but what is now Queen Victoria Square. The tower was occupied by the main staircase of the building.

After the outbreak of war, the basement of the Prudential Building was designated as an air-raid shelter for the inhabitants of the surrounding area. Some of them sought refuge there when the air raid sirens sounded shortly after midnight on the 8th May. Probably about 3am – although the records are unclear as to when it happened – the Prudential was hit by a bomb.

Plan of Prudential building ground floor [C TAB/1894/M/2766]

Many rumours circulated at the time and in the seventy years since about the bombing of the Prudential, and many questions have been asked. It was thought that naval personnel, including members of the Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS) had been in the building when it was hit, as the Admiralty had offices there. It was believed that hoses had been turned on the flames and feared that people sheltering in the basement were drowned. Figures as high as two hundred were rumoured to be the number of casualties. It was said that rather than recover the bodies, quicklime was used to bury them in situ.

Because of the impact of the rumours on morale, the City Engineer’s Department, which was in charge of rescue, demolition and repair, investigated the incident very carefully. Their report, marked as Secret, recorded their initial findings: The building was hit by a High Explosive bomb which appears to have demolished the boiler room in the middle of the basement, fracturing the gas main. Within fifteen minutes the Prudential was “a white hot inferno.” In the opinion of the City Engineer there was no doubt that the people sheltering in the basement would have been killed instantly. All the remains subsequently recovered had been badly burned. Because of the heat it was impossible for rescue parties to enter the ruins for 48 hours. The ground and upper three floors had collapsed into the basement. Military help had to be called on to move the rubble before the basement could be accessed.

Trying to work out who had been killed proved harder. Identification of the remains proved difficult, and other means such as clothing and jewellery, as was usual in these circumstances, would have been used. The staff of the City Engineer’s Department took great trouble to try and establish who had been killed, making diligent enquiries and using other means of identification such as clothing and jewellery, as was usual in these circumstances.

It turned out that the Air Raid Wardens Service did not know how many had sought shelter in the basement. The Admiralty seem to have been actively unhelpful or strangely evasive. At different times the Rescue Service Leader was told at different times that there had been eight, five and then one of their staff on duty in the building that night, but no WRNS or civilian staff. The landlord of The Punch Hotel said that six of his guests, who were likely to have sheltered in the Prudential were missing. The caretaker of the building and his family were also unaccounted for.

Remarkably it was learned that one person had escaped from the building. This was Arthur Maslin, a staff member at Smailes Holtby & Gray, which had offices in the building, and also an Air Raid Warden, who had been fire-watching in the offices that night. He scrambled out of the blazing building but one of his colleagues was missing. 

The City Engineer concluded that sixteen people had been killed in the destruction of the Prudential Building. By comparing his report with the Roll of Civilian War Dead, together with the Hull Corporation Civilian War Dead Index Cards (our reference C TYD 2), it is possible to produce the following provisional list of sixteen named casualties:
  • Agnes Rita Boase, 33, of 10-12 Waterworks Street, wife of William Henry Boase.
  • Elizabeth Maureen Boase, 4, of 10-12 Waterworks Street, daughter of William and Agnes Boase.
  • William Henry Boase, 35, manager of Quartons florists, 10-12 Waterworks Street, husband of Agnes Rita Boase.
  • Catherine Christina Bristow, 19, of St Mary’s Avenue, Bricknell Avenue, wife of Vincent Bristow, guest at the Punch Hotel.
  • Vincent Bristow, 26, of St Mary’s Avenue, Bricknell Avenue, husband of Catherine Bristow, guest at the Punch Hotel.
  • Harold Desmond Hildred, 17, of 1 East Grove, Gipsyville, Fire-watcher, presumably Arthur Maslin’s work colleague, son of Walter and Hettie Hildred.
  • Mary Yvonne Maguire, 15, of Prudential Buildings, daughter of Thomas and Tilly Maguire.
  • Matilda Isobel (Tilly) Maguire, 43, of Prudential Buildings, wife of Thomas Maguire.
  • Therese Madeline Maguire, 12, of Prudential Buildings, daughter of Thomas and Tilly Maguire.
  • Thomas Ernest Maguire, 45, of Prudential Buildings, where he was caretaker, husband of Tilly Maguire.
  • Frederick John Stanley Rees, 45, of 103 Willerby Road, Admiralty Ship Overseer.
  • Dorothy Hayton Tennison, 29, manageress of Quartons florists, 10-12 Waterworks Street, wife of Cpl JP Tennison, Royal Army Medical Corps.
  • Barbara Jane Wallis, 11, of Punch Hotel, daughter of Frederick and Catherine Wallis.
  • Catherine Wallis, 48, of Punch Hotel, wife of Frederick Wallis.
  • Frederick Wallis, 54, of Punch Hotel, husband of Catherine Wallis.
  • Frederick Henry Wallis, 15, of Punch Hotel, son of Frederick and Catherine Wallis.

Other bombing incidents had higher casualty rates – at least 60 people were killed when the communal shelter in Ellis Terrace, Holderness Road was hit on 16 April 1941 – but the Prudential incident has a special resonance with the people of Hull.

Thanks to the work of Humber Field Archaeology and the generosity of Eurovia Contracting a small display of some of the finds from the Prudential Building site will be on display at the History Centre until 21 October.

Martin Taylor, City Archivist