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

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Happy Birthday to Stevie Smith!

Today would have been the 114th birthday of local poet Stevie Smith, so in honour of this occasion we thought we would tell you a little bit about her.

Born in Hull on 20 September 1902 and christened Florence Margaret Smith, she was initially called Peggy by her family. Of course we now know her better as Stevie. This famous nickname came about at the age of 19 or 20 during a horse riding escapade with a friend on one of the London commons. Her friend compared her to Steve Donoghue, a popular jockey of the time, she then became ‘Steve’ to her friends and eventually ‘Stevie’...the rest is history!

Illustration for 'I Love the English County Scene' [U DP209/16]

Although now more widely known as a poet, Stevie’s poetry was, at first, less successful than her attempts to become a novelist. Her first novel, 'Novel on Yellow Paper or Work It Out for Yourself' (1936), was an instant success. It was written on yellow paper taken from the office where she worked at Newnes Publishing Company, and the original manuscript is now held by Hull University Archives here at the History Centre [ref no.U DP156/1].

Her first volume of poetry, 'A Good Time Was Had By All', was published in 1937, but it was only with the publication of 'Not Waving But Drowning' in 1957 that she became more widely known as a poet. Throughout the 1960s, her poetry became increasingly popular in both Britain and America, and through her poetry readings and broadcasts she gained an increasingly wide readership.

The University of Hull Archives holds several collections relating to Stevie, including her book collection [ref no.U SSC], which was purchased at auction in 1979. This collection contains numerous books by and about her, including many first editions, as well as over 100 newspaper and periodicals containing poems, articles, and reviews by Stevie and reviews of her work, obituaries and other material.

Illustration 'Dear Child of God' [U DP209/8]

Stevie was also a talented artist. Thirteen of her original drawings, composed as illustrations for poems first published in The Frog Prince (1966), are held at the History Centre [ref no.U DP209/6-17]. Other records relating to Stevie held here at the History Centre include a number of recordings of Stevie reading her own poems, including three tapes in the British Council series 'The poet speaks', and seven letters to her friend Ladislav Horvat dated 1957 [ref no.U DP197].

In 1966 she was awarded the Cholmondeley Award for Poets, and the Queen’s Gold Medal for poetry in 1969. In 1971 Stevie sadly died of a brain tumour but left a literary legacy that Hull University Archives is proud to preserve.

Verity Minniti, Archives Assistant

Friday, 16 September 2016

History Bakers: Sicilian Cassata

I took some liberties with this month’s History Bakers, as the recipe itself is not from the archive. I’ve spent most of my time at the History Centre working with the papers of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), and really wanted to use something from that collection for my inspiration. So when I was going through a file of papers relating to a chief officers conference held in the 1960s, and came across a menu featuring a dessert I had never heard of, it seemed the perfect opportunity. So the inspiration for today’s recipe, cassata, comes from a menu card for the 2nd ACPO Autumn Conference Dinner held in 1965.

U DPO/10/864

A Cassata is a traditional Sicilian dessert, often made for celebrations, and is made up of a marzipan outer shell filled with cake, sweetened ricotta, candied fruit and dark chocolate. I managed to find a recipe online. I’m going to be honest, this did not turn out quite how I had hoped, and it certainly did not look like the picture on the website. I’m not much of a baker and thought I’d cracked this by selecting something which included pre-made cake. Think of this article as the History Bakers’ equivalent of when someone drops a freshly-iced three-tiered masterpiece on The Great British Bake Off.


According to the website, this recipe requires (be aware of my comments in square brackets if you are attempting this)

For the cake
5 oz of marzipan [you will need more than this. I used closer to 9, or around 250 grams]
1 lb of ricotta cheese [I had some of the ricotta cheese mix left over at the end]
7 oz of confectioners’ sugar [I used icing sugar]
3.5 oz of candied fruit [I used mixed peel and glace cherries – the best my local supermarket had to offer!]
3 oz of chocolate drops [I assumed they meant dark chocolate drops. That seemed to work]
1/8 oz of vanilla [or half a teaspoon of vanilla extract]
3.5 ounces of dark chocolate [I used cooking chocolate]
5 oz of sponge cake [This is not enough cake. Use more cake. I used a Madeira loaf]
3.5 tablespoons of rum

For the glaze
1 egg white
5 oz of sugar [I used icing sugar again. This is not enough sugar. Use more sugar].

For the garnish
3.5 oz of candied fruit

First, you need to line a shallow spring form cake tin of 7-8 inches (I used a deep one. Error). According to the recipe, if you dust the inside of the pan with icing sugar, the marzipan won’t stick. This is a lie, but we’ll worry about that later. Go ahead and dust your pan, then roll out your marzipan to around 4 mm thick, and carefully line the tin. It probably shouldn’t look like this.

Marzipan lined cake tin

The next step is to melt some of the dark chocolate, and brush it all over the marzipan using a pastry brush (or any kind of brush I suppose, provided it is clean). The recipe suggests you need to temper it, but instead I used cooking chocolate. This process was strangely satisfying, and I recommend brushing melted chocolate on things as an activity. You then line the tin with slices of the cake. It was at this point that my suspicions about not having enough cake were realised. This was on a Sunday evening after the shops had shut. You brush the cake with the rum (gently or it will all crumb, as I discovered).

Marzipan brushed with melted chocolate

Layer of cake added on top of the chocolate

Now it’s time to make the ricotta filling. This is a mix of the ricotta, sugar, fruit, chocolate drops and vanilla. I felt reassured when this was quite tasty, albeit incredibly sweet. This mixture is placed inside the cake, and I spread it flat with a spatula. I didn’t use all of the mix as I knew I would have to match up the base with how far the cake went up the sides, so had quite a bit left over afterwards. You then lay the remaining slices of cake over the top, and brush them with rum. I was seriously running out of cake at this point, so some very thin pieces of cake got squished into the ricotta mix, with bits of crumb filling up the gaps. The bottom was well and truly soggy. This was when I stopped taking pictures as I was finding it all a bit traumatic. There was a lot of marzipan left above the cake level on the sides of the tin so I just folded it over the bottom to try and give the base some more structural integrity. We’ll find out why that was a mistake later on. You then pop the whole thing in the fridge for an hour or so to chill before adding the glaze.

To make the glaze the recipe would have you mix the egg white and the icing sugar. I am almost certain the recipe does not have enough icing sugar, the mix was really watery and it barely stuck to the marzipan, and mostly just slid off. I would experiment with adding more sugar (and generally practice glazing things more first). Also be sure to sift your icing sugar, or you get unsightly lumps in your glaze. This is probably more obvious to seasoned bakers, which I am not.

The next ‘fun’ bit is turning the cassata out onto a wire rack ready to glaze. That tip about lining the tin with icing sugar at the start? Yeah, it still stuck. While attempting to remove the base of the tin from the top of the marzipan as gently as possible, large cracks started to appear. Still, I managed to get it out mostly in one piece, and proceeded to glaze it with the overly wet, lumpy glaze. As you can probably imagine, it looked beautiful.

The finished cassata

After you’ve relocated your cassata on to a plate (make sure you haven’t folded the marzipan over the bottom like I did as it will sag through the wire rack and you’ll have to sheer the whole thing off using a very large, sharp knife), the final step is to decorate the cassata with the remaining candied fruit. I made a glace cherry sad face as it nicely summed up how I felt about the entire experience. Even more sadly I forgot to take a picture of it at this stage.

For me, the cassata was a little sweet and sickly, but I wonder if that would be less the case if there’d been a different cake to ricotta mix ratio. Everyone was very kind about it in their feedback.

Staff comments:
Indulgent sweet treat!
Delicious! All the ingredients work really well together. Fab
Sweet and tasty!
Extremely good, why the sad face?
Surprisingly sweet and indulgent, really liked the dark chocolate chips
Creamy and delicious
I loved it. I am a sucker for anything with marzipan in. A real change – well done!

As an interesting addendum to this - while finishing off the file that referenced the cassata, I discovered that maybe the creators of the dinner enjoyed by members of the ACPO in 1965 didn’t even experience the joys of making one. A draft version of the menu revealed that perhaps theirs was a little easier to prepare than mine. Can’t say I blame them.

Alex, ACPO Project Archivist