Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Archivematica UK User Group Meeting

I recently travelled across the snow-covered country to a very wet Aberystwyth to attend the December meeting of the UK Archivematica User Group kindly hosted by The National Library of Wales.

The day started with an interesting update from Rachel McGregor from the University of Lancaster, about their joint project with St Andrews University and the University of Cambridge to compare Archivematica and Preservica. They are both digital preservation software packages; Archivematica open-source and Preservica commercial. 

Rachel identified the need to think about the wider environment when weighing up which to use - as on a paper, the two systems could be said to do the same things. In practice this is not necessarily the case. She encouraged us to consider what kind of data or records you have, what you are trying to get out of a system and what your institutional context is. 

The University of Lancaster is quite ambitious about the amount of input they want into a digital preservation system – they are not looking for a “hands-off” approach of feeding material in and expecting the system to do all the work. From that perspective, Archivematica is Rachel’s preferred option. Her testing had also found that though the two systems are largely on a level-footing when it comes to file format identification, Archivematica narrowly has the edge when it comes to research data, especially with compressed files. She has found Preservica to be better for reporting as this functionality is built into the system whereas you would need to plug another application in to Archivematica yourself to produce meaningful reports. 

It was highlighted that Preservica creates much shorter METS files than Archivematica – this lead to some debate in the room as to whether Archivematica’s METS files are too long. Do we need all the information they include? And do they take up too much space? Rachel concluded that for her institution (with its primary focus being the long term preservation of research data), her preference was for Archivematica but that for other people working in different contexts she would be equally glad to recommend Preservica.

It’s thought-provoking to hear about peoples’ opinions about the two systems having moved from using Preservica in my last job to Archivematica here at the History Centre. 

An update from Jen Mitcham at the Borthwick Institute at the University of York emphasised the need, when using Archivematica, to have a really robust and clearly defined IT support network in place. It brought to light the fact that open source ≠ free when you take into consideration the staffing and intense IT support required. 

There was a group session to discuss what changes people have made to their Format Policy Registry (FPR) on Archivematica. This is a database that allows users to define policies for processing particular file formats e.g. what preservation and access formats to normalise to and what tools to use for that normalisation. There was shared agreement in the room that it would be useful to know what tweaks other institutions have made, how those institutions are similar/different to yours and why they have made those tweaks. Some people questioned the practice of normalising JPEG to TIFF, especially given that TIFFs take up so much space and asked the question, “what are we gaining?”. Are we guilty of following such practice because “it’s just the done thing”? 

There was acknowledgement that several institutions don’t feel they have the time, resources or expertise to be modifying the FPR - especially on an ongoing basis - and would like to be able to look to Artefactual to provide best-practice “default” settings for the FPR. Interestingly, later on during his update, Matthew Addis from Arkivum announced that Archivematica and Preservica are collaborating to investigate FPR and possibly produce an interoperable registry shared between the two systems.

All in all it was a very useful and informative day. Thank you to our hosts at the National Library of Wales for being so accommodating and providing a slap-up Christmas lunch! 

(see also Jen's blog reflecting on the meeting and the Format Policy Registry in particular)

Laura Giles
City of Culture Digital Archivist

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Digital Archives – working with depositors

On this, the first International Digital Preservation Day, we here at the University of Hull working on the City of Culture Digital Archive project are thinking about our experiences of some of the earlier stages of digital preservation: working with depositors to share expectations from both sides, fact-find and prepare records as fully as possible for their transfer to the archive early in 2018. There will be a range of artist and participant depositors but the bulk of the archive will be received from the Culture Company which was founded to deliver the year’s activities. There are currently in the region of 100,000 digital records in scope for this project. 

The Culture Company’s Asset Bank which contains thousands of image and video files
One of the key differences between this project and others I have worked on is the immediacy. As archivists working with “traditional” records we often expect a delay of some years between records being created and used and then becoming “archival”.  In this project our intention is to capture the activities of a single year and once that year is over to process them through Archivematica and provide public access to what we can as soon as possible. 

There are some huge advantages to this approach. We know that working with digital archives can present a complex set of issues surrounding ownership, software, file types and beyond. We’re in the brilliant position that where there is doubt we are able to approach the record creators directly and seek clarification. I have been able to sit down with members of different teams to talk to them about how they create, store and share records. 

The City of Culture team are extremely busy delivering a packed programme of cultural events and activities. Whilst they are very supportive of the development of the archive, on a day-to-day basis they often have limited time to engage in the administrative activities that would help make processing the archive at a later stage easier. This means that in some cases, records that should be on the team SharePoint or Asset Bank sites are liable to linger on personal drives and that files are stuck with meaningless titles or are stored in labyrinthine folder structures. 

The Culture Company’s team SharePoint site where they store and share records
Whilst for archivists this is hardly a new phenomenon, we have been grateful to receive support in tackling this from the senior management team at the Culture Company who have declared one day in December “Archive Day”. 

On Archive Day no meetings will be allowed and everyone will be asked to concentrate solely on sorting out their digital files. This will help the Culture Company as much as it helps us as it will help to ensure that staff don’t leave at the end of their contracts with important records still saved locally and will also give them the opportunity to flag any records with commercial or other sensitivity that we, without that insiders’ perspective, may not immediately recognise. It makes sense for the people who know the records best to do this work.

Hopefully by the time the next International Digital Preservation day rolls around we’ll be in a good position to talk about some of the technical components of digital preservation. In the meantime my tips for the early stages of a digital archive project are:

  • Be prepared to encounter a small amount of jitters from depositors – I’m sure we’d all be a little daunted at the prospect of all our records suddenly being made public! Reassure them that this is not the case and come prepared with a good knowledge of the legal landscape in this regard. Encourage questions.
  • Advocate for the digital archive at a high level within the organisation you are collecting from – they are the ones with the authority to ensure that records are managed well!
  • Get out there and talk to digital preservation colleagues at other institutions – we’re all in a great position to learn from each other.

Laura Giles, City of Culture Digital Archivist

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

The sinking of the SS Neptun, Part 2

In a previous post  I narrated the events which led to the loss of the SS Neptun on 27 June 1936. I also informed you that the owners of the vessel – J. Lauritzen – held the Humber Conservancy Board (HCB) responsible, and sought compensation in the Admiralty Court. It is now time to reveal the outcome of this case.

The trial was heard on 3 November 1937 by Mr Justice Langton. A copy of The Times Law Reports dated 10 December 1937, found amongst the records of the Engineer’s Office, outlines the details of the case.

The plaintiff’s argued that the loss of the Neptun was due to one or more of the following: breach of contract, breach of duty, breach of warranty, and/or negligence on the part of the Board.

They argued that through the publication of charts and plans indicating a minimum depth of three feet at low water in the Whitton Channel, the HCB had represented or warranted (unless notices were issued to the contrary) that such a depth existed at the deepest point. The Board counter argued that the Humber was a tidal estuary with a bed of sand subject to constant change and thus such a representation was not possible; a fact well known to those familiar with the Estuary. The positions of the Middle and Lower Whitton lightships had been altered on the fateful day, and notices issued alerting mariners of the change. Furthermore, all the Board’s charts bore a disclaimer alerting mariners that the Board accepted no responsibility for any inaccuracies. It was therefore concluded that the HCB had given no such representation or warranty.

Upper Whitton Lightship

The next charge by the plaintiff’s was that by taking dues from vessels using Humber Ports, the HCB entered into a special relationship with the owners of these vessels to maintain the navigation of the Humber to a certain standard. The grounding of their vessel represented a failure to meet this obligation. 

Establishing the Board’s responsibilities was a vital part of the case, but Langton found the Board’s attitude to be ‘vacillating, obscure and unsatisfactory’. The Board’s representatives had claimed that the obscurity of the various Acts of Parliament which conferred upon it the duties of a beaconage authority made it impossible to place any definitive responsibilities upon it. The HCB had been operating more than thirty years, and the Judge found it difficult to believe that they had not at any point sought to understand the extent of their obligations. The Elder Brethren of Trinity House were therefore called upon to define them, and outlined these minimum responsibilities as follows:

  • To find the best navigable channel via sounding.
  • To signpost such channels with sea marks (buoys, floats, lightships etc.).
  • To illuminate sea marks at night.
  • To re-sound the channel as and when the opportunity presents itself.
  • To keep a vigilant watch on any changes to the river, and adjust marks accordingly.
  • To maintain records of soundings and alternations to sea marks.
  • To publish further supplementary information and guidance.
The Judge ruled that the Board was therefore not responsible for maintaining the Humber channels to a certain standard, but was instead responsible for marking the safest known route and removing obstructions.

Humber Conservancy Board Wreck Marking System

The final charge made by the plaintiff was that the HCB had been negligent in taking soundings of the channel, and in positioning the Middle and Lower Whitton lightships on the day of the accident. The Judge having consulted expert advice, considered the resources of the Board, and taken into account its prompt response to the accident, concluded that the Board ‘had not been guilty of any want of reasonable care in the discharge of their obligations’.

The Judge had no responsibility for uncovering the circumstances behind the accident. But, with the view to the possibility of an appeal, offered the following explanation ‘that the pilot was a man of cautious habit who made a deliberate choice on the information available to him at Blacktoff, but that in this case his calculations were based on too small a margin of safety and upset by circumstances beyond his control’. In the Judge’s opinion, the accident was caused by ‘a combination of poor judgement and misfortune’.

The judgement was delivered on 29 November 1937; the case was dismissed with costs awarded to the HCB.

Neither the HCB nor the Neptun’s owners claimed that the pilot or crew was responsible, or had acted in any way improper. The ship was a victim of the unpredictable and shifting sands which characterise the Humber to this day.

Robert Astin, Project Archivist

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Tell The World: Ebenezer Cobb Morley, Founding Father of the Football Association - The Hull Connection

The 2017-2018 football season is well under way with all the usual excitement and tensions that the game brings, but without the Hull connection and a man from humble beginnings, the Football Association (FA) as we know it, may never have been formed.

Ebenezer Cobb Morley (1831-1924), widely recognised as the founding father of the Football Association, was born at 10 Garden Square, Mason Street, Hull on the 16 August 1831.

Houses in Garden Square showing numbers 2-5 [L 402]

Princess Street showing gates leading to Garden Square, c.1930 [L 405]

His father, Reverend Ebenezer Morley was an independent minister at the Holborn Street Chapel, and it was here that he was baptized in September 1831. He was named Cobb after his mother Hannah’s maiden name. Unfortunately we know little else about his early life in Hull except that, despite not being educated at a public school, he became articled to a solicitor and qualified in law in 1854. He went on to practice as a solicitor, and had chambers at 3 King’s Bench Walk, Temple, London. 

Morley was an all-round sportsman and, after settling in Barnes in South West London, he joined the London Rowing Club. It was with friends and colleagues from the rowing club that he founded the Barnes football club. His nonconformist background and schooling appear to have had a great influence on him and this, together with his passion for the game, led him to believe that football should have rules.

He wrote to Bell’s Life suggesting that rules should be imposed on the game, as had occurred in cricket. This led to a meeting of representatives from a dozen London and suburban clubs, which meeting was held at the Freemason’s Tavern in London on the 26 October 1863. It was at this meeting that the Football Association of England was formed. Morley himself drafted the thirteen original laws of the FA at his home in Barnes.

We can only imagine how violent the game was before the laws were introduced as number 13 stated: 'No player shall wear projecting nails, iron plates, or gutta percha [a form of natural rubber introduced to the west in 1843] on the soles or heels of his boots'. A dangerous game indeed!

Cobb Morley was elected the first Honorary Secretary of the F.A. in 1863, a post he held until 1866. He then became the second president of the F.A. (1867-1874), and even scored the first goal in a representative match between London v Sheffield on the 31 March 1866.

Morley, a remarkable man in every aspect, lived life to the full and died at the grand age of 93 years. He died from pneumonia on 20 November 1924. By this time, the original Wembley Stadium had been open for eighteen months, and football as we know it had become a more structured and ordered tournament game, both locally and internationally. We should therefore celebrate with pride our city's connection to Ebenezer Cobb Morley and all he achieved.

If you want to find out more about this remarkable man, his family and life, please see our research guide available on the History Centre Website.

Carol Tanner, Collections and Access Manager (Hull City Archives)

Monday, 23 October 2017

Tell the World: The Mole Behind the TV

The 23rd October is celebrated by chemists as Mole Day – 23/10 reflects the 6x1023 atoms in one mole, the mass of an element equal to its own atomic weight.

In this blog we’ll be looking at chemistry in Hull, including one piece of research that helped create the modern digital world – the development of Liquid Crystal Displays (LCDs) at Hull University.

Liquid crystal research at Hull took off in the 1950s under the supervision of George William Gray and Brynmor Jones (future Vice-Chancellor and namesake for the university library). As head of the Liquid Crystal Research Group (LCRG), George W. Gray led the university’s pioneering research throughout the next 40 years. His 1962 book, Molecular Structure and Properties of Liquid Crystals was the first English-language book published on the subject.

Professor George Gray promoting liquid crystal technology, 9 Apr 19179 [U PHO/C4544]

Liquid crystals were of particular interest because of how they changed colour under an electric current, potentially leading to better electrical displays. The breakthrough came in 1973 when the team worked out how to synthesise crystals in the cyanobiphenyl group, liquid crystals that were stable at room temperature and could be used in electronic systems.

This breakthrough led to a whole new wave of electrical devices, from aircraft computers to pocket calculators, and eventually to modern LCD computer and television screens. There’s a good chance you’re reading this on an LCD screen right now!

Hull University continues George W. Gray’s research into visual technologies through the expanded Liquid Crystals and Photonics Group (LCPG).

Microscope footage of liquid crystals forming [U DLCR/11/10] 

Chemistry in Hull isn’t confined to the university labs. Many industrial chemical companies have set up factories in the city, taking advantages of Hull’s docks to import raw materials and export finished products.

Perhaps as many as ten paint manufacturers were active in the Hull during the 19th Century, of which the Sisson’s Brothers are probably the most well-known today. Thomas Sissons started as a whale oil merchant before opening a paint factory around 1803 – since good-quality paint was made from whale oil, this step was just cutting out the middle-man.

A more colourful side to Hull’s chemical past is found in along Morley Street in Stoneferry. One of the many business set up by local pharmaceutical giants J. Reckitt & Sons Ltd was a synthetic ultramarine factory, creating hundreds of tonnes of bright blue dye from 1884 onwards. After German dye imports were halted by the First World War, it became Britain’s biggest ultramarine manufacturer, a title which it held until its closure in 2007.

Industrial plants across Stoneferry, North Hull, C.1930s [C TDP/2/1/3]

More information about Hull’s chemical industries can be found in the Hull History Centre, starting with the Trade Directories from 1834 onwards.

The History Centre also holds the records of the Liquid Crystals Research Group (U DLCR), including some of the original lab equipment and test samples, as well as the Queens Award for Technology shield, awarded to the university in 1979.

Tom, TNA Digital Archives Trainee

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

My year as a Transforming Archives Trainee

It has been a while since I finished my Transforming Archives Trainee with The National Archives at Hull History Centre and I just wanted to reflect and write about my experience.

Francisco (left) with Tom the other Trainee we hosted this year
When I look back, I can’t be more grateful to both the Hull History Centre and The National Archives for this unique opportunity. I’d also like to give special thanks to my managers Simon Wilson and Emma Stagg for their patience and effort to make this an exceptional experience.

The final outcome of my training was a successful job application. I am now working as a Digital Imaging Officer at the London Metropolitan Archives

My traineeship also inspired me to launch a job board for digitisation jobs, which aims to help other trainees and professionals find a job in the sector.
Digital Preservation Guidelines
I had the opportunity to attend the course ‘An Introduction to Digitisation and Digital Preservation’. This was provided by The National Archives and The University of Dundee. The essays I wrote and conversations I had with my tutor Melinda Haunton gave me a clear understanding of the problems that institutions can experience with Digital Preservation.

For example because the concept of digital preservation is quite new, many institutions are still trying to understand what digital preservation strategy is best for them, how to carry out this process and how to raise or allocate funding and resources. There is not a widely accepted consensus, this can lead to poorly thought out execution and a lack of funding necessary to produce useful results.

Completed NDSA Levels self assessment grid 
I also understood the technical challenges of “software obsolescence” and how file formats that we use now may not be usable in 10 or 50 years. For example, most people are familiar with JPEG formats for images now, but in 50 years time, we may have moved onto other file formats.  It could be very hard for future generations to access these file formats. That is why any attempt to preserve documents/files in a digital format must consider this and ensure documents are stored in simple, secure, affordable, open source, popular and easy to access formats.
With assistance from University Archivist, Simon Wilson and fellow trainee, Tom Dealey, we completed a self-assessment exercise using the Levels of Digital Preservation developed by the National Digital Stewardship Alliance, which aims to build awareness of current capacity and inspire organisations to develop their digital preservation activities. (see the full blog on this from March this year).

Digitising the Hotham pedigree roll
I really enjoyed digitising medieval parchment rolls from the 16th century. Our last exhibition '’The Hothams, Governors of Hull & the Civil War'’ required us to capture oversized scrolls that were 3 metres long, this was particularly challenging as our equipment could only capture small sections of the scrolls at a time, we then had to stitch these images together with Photoshop.

I was also involved with many other events relating to Hull City of Culture 2017 including the ‘’Hull Charters’’ exhibition which showed how the people of Hull were granted privileges, rights and responsibilities which now form the bedrock of how we live as citizens today. I assisted in retouching the digital images of some of these charters.

I helped with preparations for ‘’Larkin: New Eyes Each Year’’, an exhibition that explored connections between Larkin’s life and work in Hull. I helped digitise a wide range of materials including photographs, letters and documents from his collection. I enjoyed learning about Larkin’s life and understanding how exhibitions are put together from beginning to the end.

Spanish Civil War items
I believe this traineeship has been about much more than developing my skills. It is about empowering and inspiring people to develop their passion for the Archives and the Heritage world, being in a privileged position to unlock and reinterpret the past whilst understanding how future digital generations will be able to use, access and interact with our heritage records.

I was given so many opportunities to move forward in my professional career. I had a life coach who helped me to focus on my strengths and motivated me to find new ways to develop my confidence. I had the chance to attend a wide range of workshops and conferences around the country and I had hands on experience which honed my skills.

As a result of all this, I gained not only skills and a job at the London Metropolitan Archives, but developed new ideas, I launched a job board for digitisation jobs I am working on a new project related to ai jobs, which aims to empower the new workforce as digitisation, the fourth industrial revolution and AI enter the mainstream.

(now former Transforming Archives trainee)

Monday, 2 October 2017

PASIG 17 conference - a few reflections

I am the recently appointed City of Culture Digital Archivist. This archive will seek to document Hull’s time as City of Culture in order for it to become a key part of the collective memory of the city and to inspire creativity and innovation for years to come. Largely digital in format, it will challenge us to develop new strategies, technologies and workflows for preserving and providing access to archival records. 

To assist with this, from 11th-13th September I attended the yearly meeting of the Preservation and Archiving Special Interest Group (PASIG), hosted by the Bodleian Libraries & Digital Preservation at Oxford and Cambridge (DPOC) at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. PASIG is dedicated to advancing the practice of digital preservation and archiving.

Over the course of three days we were treated to more than 50 talks, panel sessions and vendor demos – so of course I won’t be summarising every single one! But there were certainly a few sessions that struck a particular chord with me that I’d like to talk about.

Oxford Museum of Natural History
Eduardo del Valle of the University of the Balearic Islands gave a talk about catastrophic data loss which served as a cautionary tale. Having lost 248GB of digitised files during a data migration, which amounted to three months scanning work on fragile, rare, unique books his university has now implemented Libsafe. This means that all NDSA levels of preservation are reached, providing the expectation that such a loss should not occur again.  He warned against taking assurances from IT services at face value and that it’s not worth taking risks with data as anything that can go wrong will go wrong! This talk underlined the usefulness of such standards as the NDSA levels of preservation and how they can provide a framework that protects valuable information.

Patricia Sleeman of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) gave what was, in my (and I think many others’) opinion, the standout talk of the conference. Opening her talk with a compelling video of the poet and activist Emi Mahmoud performing her poem “Head over Heels”, Patricia went on to speak with power and urgency about the crucial work of the UNHCR. When compared to the need to provide nutrition and shelter to displaced people it can seem hard to justify spending money on recordkeeping and archives, but as Patricia explained, the protection of culture and information is vital to the protection of a sense of humanity. Not only can the availability of authoritative and verifiable information assist in the battle against dangerous fake news, the preservation of cultural identities that oppressors have sought to destroy can help rebuild people, their lives and their memories. It was a sobering reminder that what we do is about more than bytes and boxes on shelves and that to loosely quote Patricia, “we have a right to be forgotten but we also have the right to be remembered”.

Whilst the conference covered a hugely diverse array of subjects, from storage trends to advocacy to certification and beyond, four overarching themes emerged to me:
  1. That in order to progress we must accept a degree of uncertainty. There is no way we can know the exact outcomes of new digital preservation activities before we try them – we mustn’t let that stop us though, as we can only learn by doing.
  2. Collaboration is key. Sharing insights and findings, successes and failures with the digital preservation community benefits us all immeasurably.
  3. It’s time to stop thinking about digital preservation and start doing digital preservation.
  4. We should be receptive to new ways of doing things. The archives profession has been comfortable with the ways of Hilary Jenkinson for nigh on 100 years – perhaps now is the time to be truly disruptive and start embracing new technologies such as machine reading and artificial intelligence.
It was great to learn so much about what is being achieved in the field of digital preservation internationally and to make contacts that I can hopefully collaborate with as we make progress with the City of Culture digital archives.

Laura Giles
City of Culture Digital Archivist

Thursday, 28 September 2017

National Poetry Day

The 28th September marks National Poetry Day in the UK. To celebrate National Poetry Day 2017, we have decided to shine a light on the, perhaps, lesser known poets, whose works are now part of the archival collections at the Hull History Centre. Many of you may know that we hold significant collections relating to Philip Larkin, Stevie Smith, Archive Markham, and Douglas Dunn. But did you also know, that in the University Archives, we have collections relating to poetry publishers, such as Peterloo Poets (ref. U DPP), who helped up-and-coming poets get published?

Peterloo Poets was established by Harry Chambers, a life-long poetry enthusiast and founder of the poetry journal Phoenix, in the mid-1970s. In 1976, Chambers took the huge step of leaving his salaried job and moving with his family to Cornwall where he ran the press initially from their home in Treovis near Liskeard with funding provided by the Arts Council and support from his wife Lynn, who became a full-time administrator for Peterloo Poets in 1980.

U DPP/1/1/35 Advertising leaflet for Peterloo Poets’ Poetry Competition: Poems About Paintings

Harry Chambers was a very active publishing director and was involved in all aspects and stages of the publishing process, including typography and design. Manuscripts were commissioned and solicited by Peterloo Poets but over 1000 unsolicited manuscripts were also received each year and Chambers had exclusive control over selecting volumes for publication. He also edited and contributed features to the annual Peterloo house journal, Poetry Matters (1983-92) and produced special editions celebrating the works of Charles Causley and Philip Larkin.

During its 37 years, Peterloo Poets published the work of 131 different poets and 240 different volumes of poetry. Peterloo Poets also organised an Annual International Poetry Competition, annual Poetry for Schools events and workshops and an International Poetry Festival. For the last 12 years, the organisation operated from the refurbished Old Chapel in Calstock.

Harry Chambers retired as Publishing Director of Peterloo in 2009, but continued to take an active interest in the world of poetry, while health allowed, when he moved to York. His achievements were recognised in 2010 with an MBE for Services to Poetry. Harry Chambers died in York on 14 September 2012.

U DPP/1/1/35 Photo of Harry Chambers receiving a sponsorship cheque for the Peterloo Poets Open Poetry Competition 1993

The Peterloo Poets collection (U DPP) predominantly contains copies of poetry books published by Peterloo Poets and poetry files, each relating to a specific poet and/or one of their works. Published matter in the collection also includes items from the Phoenix Pamphlet Poets Press, copies of the Phoenix Quarterly Series and Poetry Matters, the Peterloo Poets magazine. Poets represented in the published works of Peterloo Poets include U.A. Fanthorpe, who was awarded the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry in 2003, William Scammell, Elizabeth Bartlett, Ann Drysdale, Dana Gioia and many others.

There is also a large amount of correspondence with various poets within the collection as well as an extensive amount of reviews, articles and press cuttings relating to Peterloo Poets and poets connected with Peterloo Poets. Further items of interest, include minutes of Peterloo Poets AGMs, examples of artwork for books being published, original photographs of various poets and plans of the Old Chapel at Calstock, from which Peterloo Poets operated.

Poetry still remains a beloved art form, allowing people the freedom to express their voice in verse, and the acquisition of collections relating to modern English literature is a key part of the Hull University Archives’ collecting policy. Indeed, poetry is an important part of our society’s culture and deserves to be preserved for the enjoyment of generations to come. 

Verity Minniti, Archives Assistant (HUA)

Monday, 25 September 2017

Freedom: Doodles & Drawings - Art in the Archives at Hull History Centre

Archives...what does that word mean to you? Does it conjure up visions of boring dusty documents and illegible text? Think again!

With the Turner Prize launch just around the corner, we've gone arty with the theme of this fortnight's City of Culture blog at Hull History Centre...

Following on from the 'Cabinet of Curiosities' exhibition at Hull's Maritime Museum, here at Hull History Centre we have created a new exhibition, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. 
It will challenge your view of archives by showcasing some of the wonderful doodles and drawings to be found within our collections. Through beautiful sketches, watercolour paintings, drawings and doodles you will discover that archives are not all about text. Illustration has long been used as a wonderful way to exercise freedom of expression, and you will see how images can add as much to our understanding of the past as the written word.

Cairns Foster shop [C TDR]

The items within the exhibition span the 14th through to the 21st centuries and include artwork created by volunteers and staff who have taken inspiration from collections at the History Centre. Come along and see art in all its many guises, from medieval doodles through to modern day sketches. There will be interactive elements to help demystify the work carried out at the History Centre where staff work to manage and preserve the City's documentary heritage.

Illuminated letter from Bench Book 1 [C BRG/1]

Hidden amongst the exhibits is our oldest illustrated inhabitant, Ranulph the rabbit. At almost 600 years old he can’t move very fast so you have a good chance of spotting him! 

'Doodles and Drawings' opens at Hull History Centre on the 10th October 2017 and runs through to 6th January 2018. There will be events and activities running alongside the exhibition so don't forget to check the History Centre's website for further details.

Carol Tanner, 
Access and Collections Manager (Hull City Archives)

Friday, 22 September 2017

Queen’s Dock: Hull’s First Dock

On 22 September 1778 the Manchester and Favourite sailed into Hull to mark the opening of the Port’s new Dock. This ceremony heralded the completion of the City’s first wet dock, and marked the beginning of a new era for Hull.

The establishment of the Dock was driven by two factors: increasing congestion of shipping in the Haven (the Old Harbour), and pressure from Customs and Exercise who were demanding the establishment of a legal quay to facilitate the levying of customs dues. Hull had a historic exemption from legislation stipulating that all goods, except fish, were to be landed on open wharfs with resident customs officers. As a result of this exemption, Hull had become notorious for smuggling by the eighteenth century.  There was much resistance in the City to any change to the status quo. However, the threat of the establishment of a legal quay elsewhere on the Humber motivated interested parties to act.

Coat of Arms of the Hull Dock Company
Power to construct the Dock was obtained in the Dock Act (1774), which created the Hull Dock Company. The Act empowered the Company to raise £80,000 in shares, and granted it the power to borrow an additional £20,000 should the need arise. £15,000 out of the Custom’s Revenue was allocated to the Company to facilitate the construction of the Dock, along with all the defences (walls, ditches etc.) west of the River Hull. The right to levy dues on shipping entering or leaving the Port of Hull from the end of 1774 provided the Company with additional funds.

The foundation stone was laid on 19 October 1775 by the Lord Mayor Joseph Outram. The 1774 Dock Act had stipulated that the Dock was to be constructed in seven years, a target that was easily met; the Dock was constructed in four years at the cost of £64,588.

At almost ten acres in size Hull’s new Dock was, for a time, the largest in Britain. Its large size meant its wharfs would become home to whalers and large foreign-going shipping, while most inland and coastal traffic continued to use the Haven. This situation would last until additional dock accommodation at Hull was provided.
Inscription from the Foundation Stone of Queen’s Dock
The construction of the Docks in four years was a notable achievement. However, it was not without its problems and a number of rebuilding works were required. Notably in 1814-15, when the lock-pit was rebuilt on a larger scale and the entrance basin was strengthened. Another hindrance in the operation of the Dock was that until 1829 the only means of entering the Dock was via the congested River Hull. This would prove a significant impediment to shipping until the opening of Junction Dock provided direct access from the Humber.

When opened the Dock was not given a formal name, and until 1809 it was simply known as ‘the Dock’. Following the opening of Humber Dock it became known as ‘the Old Dock’. It was not until 1855 that it was formerly renamed Queen’s Dock in honour of a visit to Hull by HM Queen Victoria the previous year. Queen’s Dock would eventually form a system of docks referred to as ‘the Town Docks’.

Queen’s Dock would remain in operation for over 150 years until its closure in 1930. The owners of the Dock – at this point the London and North Eastern Railway Company – had determined that the cost of maintaining and operating the Dock rendered it no longer viable. It was sold to Hull Corporation, and over the course of the next four years the Dock was filled in. Further details on this transformation can be found in our 2015 blog post. It was re-opened on 19 September 1935 to the public as Queen’s Garden, which remains open to this day.

Robert Astin, Project Archivist

Friday, 15 September 2017

New Theatre Programmes

To coincide with the re-opening of Hull New Theatre this weekend, the staff at Hull History Centre have been busy listing all of the New Theatre programmes from October 1939-February 2008 so that performances, dates and performers can now be searched on our online catalogue.

There are over 2800 individual programmes available. Our catalogue (PDF version, 2.7Mb) includes the names of the productions, the name of the companies that brought the productions to Hull, the date and the names of the principal performers.

The Hull New Theatre opened on Saturday, October 16, 1939 with Noel Gay’s ‘Me and My Girl’ featuring Joan Lake and Reg Andrews.

Performances carried on throughout the Second World War with the theatre’s first manager, Peppino Santangelo, insisting that they carry on regardless. The theatre even suffered a direct hit during May 1941 when the Sadler’s Wells Opera Company made a visit to Hull in order to perform away from the bombing in London!

The Seashell (Ref L DTNT/1/35/19)
Famous names of stage and screen that appear in the programmes include Sean Connery in a production of ‘Seashell’ (Nov 1959), Peter Wyngarde who performed at the Hull New Theatre four times between 1947 and 1976 as did John Le Mesurier between 1939 and 1940.

The programmes are not the only resource that we hold relating to theatres. We also have numerous play bills, original building plans, photographs, newspaper advertisements and articles. 

The majority of our theatre programmes have come from the Local Studies collection but the History Centre has continued to receive donations of programmes from individuals and organisations. The programmes for other theatres in Hull including The Palace Theatre, Anlaby Road and the Alexandra Theatre on the corner of George Street and Charlotte Street are now also being catalogued and will be made available on our online catalogue shortly. Watch this space…!

Elspeth Bower, Archivist

Monday, 11 September 2017

Freedom: The Art of Political Expression

At Hull History Centre we hold many collections which document a wide range of political issues and campaigns. With City of Culture’s ‘Freedom’ themed events in full swing, we thought we would use this blog to highlight some hidden gems.

Below you will find a selection of items showing how individuals and campaign groups have used art as a means of political expression. Look out for the curve ball which hints at issues of censorship and freedom of speech.

Election poster produced by the Municipal Association Group, mid-20th cent. [U DAS/29/61]

Visual posters like this one, produced by the Municipal Association Group as part of an election campaign, can tell us lots about the issues particular local elections were contested on. Whilst election statements and party manifestos can also tell us such information, visual representations can help us understand the different ways in which messages were put across to the electorate.

Cartoon sent by Victor Weisz to Audrey Jupp-Thomas, 18 Jan 1956 [U DJT/10]

Victor Weisz, born in Berlin to Jewish parents, was a gifted caricaturist and political cartoonist. Before moving to Britain in 1935 as a result of his strongly anti-Nazi political position, his work had appeared in German newspapers. In Britain his work appeared in the News Chronicle, the Daily Mirror, Evening Standard and the New Statesman. By the 1940s he had adopted the pseudonym 'Vicky', became a British citizen in 1947, and tragically took his own life in 1966.

Poster issued by the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, 1980s [U DBV/28/2]

Founded in 1898 by Miss Frances Power Cobbe, the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection plays an important part in the history of the animal rights movement in Britain. For a century the BUAV has been leading campaigns against vivisection, testing of cosmetics on animals, and use of animal testing in the development of treatments intended for human use.  

Circular issued by The National Council for Civil Liberties, c.1934 [U DCL/74/4]

The censorship of visual expressions of opinions was a common feature of many political regimes during the 20th century. This fact shows that opponents of a particular position have long believed visual messages to have a strong impact on the spread of information and the persuasion of individuals.

If any of these items have piqued your interest, you can investigate further by paying us a visit and delving in to the collections.

Claire Weatherall (Assistant Archivist)

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Freedom: Hull and the Abolition of the Slave Trade

This installment of the City of Culture blog looks at the issue of 'freedom' through the lens of the end to slavery. The 23rd August hosted the International Day of Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition. The Abolition of the Slave Trade Act was passed on 25 March 1807 that outlawed the British Atlantic slave trade and in 1833 Britain passed the Abolition of Slavery Act, ordering the gradual abolition of slavery in all British colonies. However, it was not until 1888 when slavery was finally abolished, Brazil being the last country in the Western world to do so.

Part of the Slavery Collection at Hull History Centre

Hull as a city will be forever associated with the abolition of the slave trade primarily due to William Wilberforce’s leadership in the parliamentary campaign. Wilberforce was of course not Hull’s only Member of Parliament to address the slavery issue. David Hartley (MP for Hull 1774-1780 and 1782-1784) formally brought the slave trade to the attention of the House of Commons and in 1776 introduced a debate “that the slave trade is contrary to the laws of God and the rights of men”.

Until emancipation, slaves were considered the property of their owners, which meant that they were subject to the whims of their owner and local slave laws. Families could be split up, and people could be sold, gifted and inherited as property. The sale and trading of human beings as property seems an incomprehensible act. And yet at the History Centre we have found deeds and mortgages within our collections that show property and people grouped together as if they are one and the same thing.

Mortgage of an estate in Westmoreland, Jamaica, listing c.300 slaves [C DDX/35]

A collection that is currently being listed and will soon appear on our online catalogue at reference C DDI consists of deeds relating to properties in Antigua, Jamaica, Barbados and elsewhere. Held within the collection is a mortgage for £3,000 for the repair of damage caused by a hurricane to a plantation in the island of Barbados. This gem of a document also provides details of the slaves working on the plantation, giving their name, sex, employment, country, age, and in some cases even their date of birth. Similarly a mortgage is held at reference C DDX/35 that includes a list of approximately 300 slaves at a Lincoln estate in Westmoreland, Jamaica, which provides their names, colour, age, whether African or Creole, and in some cases it even gives the name of their mother.

Documents such as these are of international importance; they not only enhance our understanding of the slave trade but record the very existence of individual slaves. At the Hull History Centre we also house a special collection of over 1100 books relating to the history of slavery and its abolition from 1492 until 1888. It is important to remember the past in order to have the wisdom to prevent the same mistakes in the future.

Laura Wilson, Librarian/Archivist

Monday, 21 August 2017

The Gold Nose of Green Ginger

On Saturday 19th August we welcomed a very special treasure, given to the city for safekeeping and on display in our arcade until 11 November..

In 1967, foundations to lay the first houses on the Bransholme estate were being laid.  During the excavations, workmen were puzzled when they came across a small casket buried deep within the crowd; pulling it out and brushing the dirt away, they opened it to reveal a strange gold object inside.

Described as ‘looking like a ginger root…roughly in the shape of a warty nose’, it had two nostrils and braided silk ties, indicating it was perhaps worn ceremonially at some point.

The Gold Nose of Green Ginger, as we now know it is called, has been mentioned throughout the annals of history, but has always been considered an urban myth. Shortly after its discovery on Bransholme, it swiftly disappeared again – no one knows quite why, but some reports claim that those who came into contact with it were blessed with unexplainable and plentiful good luck, so it was hidden from public interest until it could be fully understood. 

Others say it was stolen by someone who wanted to be exclusively imbued with fortune, while others believe it was quite simply lost.

There is no evidence to suggest when and/or where The Gold Nose was first documented. 

Some theories suggest a boar, long considered a magical creature and deeply connected to the earth’s energies, had been foraging for food in the water meadow that became Bransholme and unearthed it (the name Bransholme coming from the old Scandinavian phrase meaning ‘wild boar water meadow’). Other variations on this story tell of the boar having special powers and turning the root gold itself. 

But what exactly is it? One popular theory relates to the discovery of excavations in the 1970’s in Wroxeter, Shropshire, where a set of Roman-period gold eyes - believed to bring healing to those suffering from ophthalmological conditions - were discovered. It is thought they were an offering to the gods; could The Gold Nose be something similar? What we do know is Roman discoveries have been made across the region, including Roman coins found at Castle Hill and across Bransholme, so it’s possible.

We also know that an amulet known as a ‘Bulla’ was given to male children in Ancient Rome nine days after birth. Meant to protect against evil spirits and forces, these would often be made of different materials depending on social status; usually lead or leather, but gold in wealthy families. There have been suggestions that The Gold Nose could be a variation on this, but this is so far unproven. Laboratory analysis does however confirm it is made of real gold.

It may also be significant that Meaux Abbey – which in the Middle Ages owned the land on which Bransholme was built – is known to have had a magnificent collection of golden objects; perhaps the Nose is a rare survival.

But how did The Gold Nose come to Hull History Centre? 

Back in April, a local group of experts was called in to investigate the discovery of a large cache of crates found in a previously unknown vault beneath the city. During their extensive investigations, The Green Ginger Fellowship was drawn to a crate that smelled unmistakably of ginger; upon opening it, they discovered The Gold Nose lying within. 

After much public interest in this unexpected rediscovery, The Gold Nose began a momentous two-month residency from Saturday 17 June 2017 at North Point Shopping Centre in Bransholme, Hull, displayed for the public to view at close quarters and make wishes on. It has now been handed back to the City of Hull for safekeeping, residing with us until it continues on its adventure.