Mrs Dann – Reading’s First Female Professional Photographer?

The Phillip Osbourne Collier Photographic Collection has been digitised and cataloged and we are now making our way through the Dann-Lewis Photographic Collection. The history of the Dann-Lewis photograph studio, which remained a family firm until its closure in the 1940s, began in 1856 when Mrs Dann opened a shop at 35 Broad Street. This almost undoubtedly makes her Reading’s first female professional photographer, and something of a pioneer. Fox Talbot had removed his business from the town less than a decade previously, and since then only Alfred Barber (a daguerrotypist) is known to have been operating in Reading. Indeed, social conventions dictated that Mrs Dann’s husband Francis, a Great Western Railway worker, should give his name to the business. The studio was therefore registered as belonging to him, and his name appeared both over the door and in the local business directory.

Francis Dann rather than Mrs Dann listed as a Photographic Artist in Reading in Edward Cassey and Co.’s 1868 Directory of Berkshire and Oxfordshire

Although portraiture provided much of the early business, engagements also included local scenes and landmarks, pictures of outlying villages, important buildings, developing x-rays for the Hospital and regular visits to the Reading Police Station to photograph new prisoners. Further premises had been acquired at 744 Oxford Road by the late 19th century.

Governor's House, H.M. Prison, Reading

Governor’s House, H.M. Prison, Reading

On Mrs Dann’s retirement, the business was taken over by her grand-daughter, who had grown up in the family business. Her marriage to Mr Henry Lewis (noted for his “Magic Lantern Shows”) led to a combination of their names: the business became Dann-Lewis, and is listed as such in the 1903 local directory. By that time the business had moved from Broad Street to London Street. When Henry Lewis died, his son, Walter, ran the business, by then at 27 Argyle Street, until its closure sometime after the Second World War.

Broad Street, Reading

Broad Street, Reading

The collection consists of about 2000 glass plate negative together with a few original prints and documentation. An accurate dating system is yet to be established, but it is thought that most were taken between the 1880s and the 1930s. The collection consists of mainly topographical images and can be searched via our online database 

 

Danielle Mills

Reading Connections Digitisation/Data Officer

A ‘badger’ of bodgers at MERL

Some of the objects the bodgers looked at. Unfortunately, although there was lots of photo-taking, we forgot to take any photos of the group!

Some of the objects the bodgers looked at. Unfortunately, although there was lots of photo-taking, we forgot to take any photos of the group!

On Monday MERL hosted a visit from the Berkshire Bodgers, a local group of greenwood workers which was formed in the summer of 2013. The visit was part of craft connections element of the Reading Connections project, to engage with local craftspeople to raise awareness of our collections, the work we’ve been doing with them and their availability for research purposes.

MERL has a wonderful array of greenwood craft products and tools – including bowls, spoons, walking sticks, handles and chair spindles. One of the highlights for many woodworkers is the chance to see George Lailey’s lathe, tools and bowls. Lailey lived and worked in the Berkshire village of Bucklebury (find out more on the Sense of Place project blog), and is widely known as the ‘last bowl-turner in England’. He turned wooden bowls on a foot-powered pole-lathe until his death aged 85 in 1958. It was reported that the craft died out with him, but it has since been revived and is now popular with many greenwood workers.

The majority of the spoons at MERL (unfortunately we have no spoon-carving tools) were part of the British Council collection, which was put together in 1946 as a touring exhibition sent to Australia and New Zealand to show crafts that were still being practised in the British Countryside. Many of the pieces in the Collection were made specifically for the exhibition and have never been used. The spoons were beautiful – so highly finished – and some were surprisingly large!

Historically, the term ‘bodging’ refers to the craft of turning legs and other cylindrical parts of chairs. The examples we have at MERL were turned by Sam Rockall, the last in a line of bodgers who worked in the Chiltern beech woods. We’re lucky enough to have a few of the tools he used, as well as some spindles.

We had an amazing turnout for the visit, with eighteen bodgers – so we divided into two groups. While half looked at the Lailey material on display in the galleries, the other half had the chance to look and handle some of the other greenwood craft items, as well as exploring the Mezzanine and the wider collections. And during the lunchbreak we took a few minutes to listen to a BBC recording with George Lailey made in the late 1940s.

I love visits from craftspeople, as their enthusiasm, passion and knowledge is incredible. Simon Vowell, who demonstrated bodging at the MERL Fete in 2013 and helped organise the visit, said he was “vibrating with excitement”. And Chris Allen, head of the Berkshire Bodgers, described MERL as a “bodger’s heaven”. The visit also provided Phillippa Heath, Digital Content and Online Engagement Officer for Reading Connections, with the opportunity to conduct some oral history interviews with some of the bodgers, with more to follow next week. And the visit also got me really excited about the spoon-carving course I’m going on in April with Martin Damen, who also demonstrated at last year’s MERL Fete. So all in all, a great day all round!

Thank you to all the bodgers who came to visit. We really hope you enjoyed your day – it was great to have you! And don’t forget to take a look at our online catalogue to find out more about our craft collections.

 

Greta Bertram, Project Officer

MERL collections to be given a human voice

As you will have gleaned from previous posts, a really important aspect of the Reading Connections project is to make the MERL and Reading Museum collections accessible so that they have the potential to be viewed and used by as large an audience as possible. Partly this has been achieved through the creation of digital resources (such as the Memorial Book flickr site which details those who had connections with the Reading University College and who lost their lives during the First World War). As 2014 gets underway, however, an additional oral history strand will come into force which will provide another way for communities to engage with the collections.

Oral history (or the the conducting of interviews with people who participated in or observed past events and whose memories and perceptions of these are to be preserved as an record for future generations) has been increasingly used in museums as part of their interpretation.In particular the last 20 years, which has witnessed the reinterpretation and the democratization of museum spaces, has also seen an increased use of oral histories in heritage settings. For many museum professionals and visitors, this has been a welcome change. Mark O’Neill (Director of Policy and Research for Glasgow Life) describes that: “museums are places where people go to think and feel about what it means to be human”. Oral testimonies can provide a human voice, increase relevance and can capture aspects of life which are informal and unwritten and which might otherwise disappear without trace. We are now in a position where more museums than ever are taking notice of the things that people remember.

In MERL we are lucky to have an extensive Evacuee Archive which comprises, among other things, interviews conducted with evacuees during the Second World War. The interviews were carried out by the Research Centre for Evacuee and War Child Studies at the University of Reading. The collection mainly relates to evacuation schemes within Britain and the British children who were sent overseas to Canada, the USA, South Africa, and Australasia. As part of the Reading Connections project a group of volunteers have formed a Transcription Group and will transcribe the interviews in full. These transcriptions will then be catalogued and made publicly available. Also as part of the project, we will be conducting new interviews. These interviews will complement the different themes of the Reading Connections project including: Reading at War, Craft, Local Collections and Village Communities and we are set to interview a range of individuals from craftspeople to members of the Women’s Land Army. These will go far to further enhance our collections.

Phillippa Heath

Reading at War Project Officer, Museum of English Rural Life


Researching the Chronicle Collection

Over the past few months I have continued my work on the Chronicle Collection belonging to Reading Museum. With the help of Project Intern, Sarah Beattie, the 2,000 glass plate negatives selected from the collection for the online resource have now been digitised using specialist scanning equipment. This strand of the Reading Connections project is now in its final phase.

I am in the process of researching the photographs alongside Project Intern, Evelyn Williams, using diverse and interesting methods including the study of microfilm copies of the Berkshire Chronicle in Reading Library, in an attempt to identify the selected photographs in their published format and any related articles. It should be noted that Reading Library are in the process of digitalising their newspaper collections amongst other items including the Berkshire Chronicle which will make future research more accessible. Books written by local historians and select websites have also been useful in providing a history of Reading, from which to draw information from.

Boshier

In researching the photographs in the Berkshire Chronicle, I have come across many interesting local stories, for example, an escaped swan in 1945, who tired of his surroundings in the River Thames was found wandering through Reading, unperturbed by the traffic. He was eventually captured by Mr L. T. Boshier (pictured above), Keeper of the King’s Swans in Reading and was returned to the river unharmed.

Harvey

Another unusual story found in the Berkshire Chronicle is that of 19 year old, Miss Ellen Harvey (pictured above) who was badly bitten by her 7 year old male lion, Mushie, who she had trained in a ‘wrestling stage act’. The inclusion of wild animals in stage performances was somewhat acceptable at the time. The incident occurred during an evening performance at the Palace Theatre on Cheapside in Reading in 1948, shortly after beginning her first act. It was reported in the newspaper that Mushie, who had seemed agitated all afternoon leading up to the performance, took a bite from Miss Harvey’s hand, his teeth sinking to her bone. Miss Harvey soldiered through the rest of her act before seeking medical attention and during her second act of the evening was wrapped in bandages. It is claimed that during the later performance, Mushie was back to his usual self and safely ate raw meat off Miss Harvey’s face, an unofficial world record in 1948.

Sophie Fitzpatrick

Project Officer

University College Reading and The Great War

 

I should start by saying thank you to Verity Andrews and Caroline Gould for introducing me to this subject, encouraging my work and identifying many of the sources I have been examining.

The aim of the work was to try to add some detail to the names and photographs contained in the Memorial Album to gain a better understanding of the connection between the people concerned and the College.

From the College Calendars it was possible to see the examinations students had passed; the qualifications they had obtained; and whether they had won scholarships, gained prizes or become associates of the College. From details of the Student Union Representative Council and the committees of the various College societies it was possible to see the participation of some students in non-academic College life.

Once the war had started the University College Review included a list of those on Military Service. Starting with the December 1914 edition, it listed the names of those who had joined up with, where available, details of their unit and rank and the period when they had been at the College. People who had been members of the Officer Training Corps (OTC) were identified, as were those who were members of the College staff (both academic and non-academic). This list continued to be updated and appeared until the Review stopped being published after the December 1916 edition. The Review also published a Roll of Honour and obituaries of some of those who died.

Tamesis, the Student magazine, also published a Military Service list drawing on the same information used for that in the Review.

The Old Students’ Association produced its first News in November 1914. It also contained details of those On Service. The last edition published before the end of the war was dated December 1917 and the editions published until then provided more names to add to those obtained from the Review and Tamesis. From these and other printed sources, including local newspapers, it has been possible to compile a list of over 570 people, who were members of the armed forces or nurses and had a College connection; of these 146 lost their lives. The age range of those who died was 18 to 45, with the vast majority being 30 or less. Four of the deaths occurred after the Armistice, two in 1919. Whilst most of the dead had been students of the College, not all were. Some joined the OTC at the start of the war but were never students; some like Samuel Bruce McLaren (Professor of Mathematics) were members of staff; and Rex Lewin was both a former student and member of staff.

The first to die was Sergeant Herbert Westwick, who had been Instructor of the College’s OTC:

H Westwick photo Tamesis

He died on 14 September 1914 leaving a wife and three children. There was no photograph of him in the memorial album but we did find a drawing of him in Tamesis (above), which captured him in a moment of relaxation and has great warmth.

The College dead included three pairs of brothers: Herbert Charles and Leonard Leaver Hyde; Clifford Holt and Gerald Holt Rothwell; and Frank Wortley and Paul Emery May Simmons. There were also two brothers-in-law: Eric Baseden and Wilfred Drake. Herbert Melville Wright was the son of Francis Henry Wright, Registrar of the College, and Walter Thomas Lucking was the only son of George Lucking, the College’s Head Porter.

I had never heard of Ernest Denny but, having seen that he was a poet, we managed to find two books (Galleys Laden and Triumphant Laughter) in which his work appeared. The University has copies of both books, which were published after Denny’s death, and it would be interesting to know whether any of his poems appeared in print before his death in 1917.

Some of those who died had left Britain, at least temporarily, to pursue careers abroad. When war broke out some joined the forces of the countries they had moved to (Canada and New Zealand), whilst Basil George Hope Maclear returned to Britain from South Africa, where he had been farming since 1904.

One woman is amongst the dead. Florence Faithfull was born in India in 1891, the daughter of an officer in the Indian Army. Whilst we could not find her in the 1911 census her four siblings were living in Redlands Road. She served as a Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) nurse throughout the war until her death in January 1918 when she was drowned in Basra.

There are one or two mysteries. Why do the names of Francis Pearse and Wilfred Owen not appear on the Clock Tower Memorial, and who was H Turner? His name appears both in the album and on the memorial, but without a Christian name it is proving hard to discover more about him.

Not all who went to the war died; some returned to the College to resume their studies and others returned to resume their academic careers. Randolph Chell wrote about the war in With the 10th Essex in France (London 1924). Post-war editions of the Old Students’ News include details of the marriages of some of those who returned, and the subsequent birth of their children, and details of their subsequent careers. But I cannot help but wonder how many of those who did survive returned with physical or mental scars and how they managed to resume a peacetime existence. The post-war deaths of two former students are attributed, at least in part, to them having been wounded or gassed.

Jeremy Jones

Reading at War Project Volunteer

Reading Connections – the half way point

The project has reached the half way stage and the project team have achieved a lot so far:

Reading at War

Phillippa Heath and, project volunteer, Jeremy Jones have been to talking to Tony Blackburn on BBC Radio Berkshire, and have been interviewed by the Reading Post about the World War I Memorial book held by the University.  People have been discovering the Flickr site and adding more information on the people in the memorial book enriching the information already held.

Zoe Watson and Danni Mills hosted a visit from the Berkshire World War I project.

The Evacuees Archive is now available for research use.

Project intern Laura Farrell has been researching using the Evacuees Archive, and Huntley and Palmer archive for performance pieces by Dr Teresa Murjas.

Ian McDonnell Jessiman_10r

Ian McDonnell Jessiman evacuated to Vancouver, Canada in 1940 (D EVAC A/2/23)

Village Communities

Dr Ollie Douglas and with Dr Bridget Yates recently gave a talk entitled Looking for Lavinia: An American collector in 1930s in Berkshire, which generated good feedback and some new leads to follow up on.

Craft

Greta Bertram recently gave a successful talk to Southcote Library.  She has now finished cataloguing all clay, leather, metal, stone and straw crafts (leaving just textiles and wood crafts to go), and has enhanced craft catalogue records by adding images to them.

Historic World Objects

With photography work completed over the summer, all 600 objects selected for the online catalogue now have at least one high quality photograph. Research is well underway, with project officers Felicity McWilliams and Adam Koszary having fully researched 120 of the 600 objects so far. Plans are also underway for museum ethnography specialists to visit the collection and offer advice about its potential for further research or community engagement.

Local collections

Danni Mills has reached the milestone of digitising 4000 images, and has catalogued 2 500 images from the Collier collection.  Sophie Fitzpatrick has been working on Reading Chronicle glass plate negatives, and approximately 500 images have now been researched and prepared on MODES out of approximately 2000, with the help of project interns Sarah Beattie and Evelyn Williams.

We are looking forward to achieving even more by the end of the project.

Zoe Watson 

Project Archivist/Project Manager

Intern Laura Farrell writes about her research


I have spent the last few weeks at MERL carrying out research for two unusual exhibitions which are to be mounted by MERL in collaboration with Reading Museum in the Spring/Summer of 2013. The exhibitions, which will involve elements of film and/or live performance, will be produced by Dr Teresa Murjas (Associate Professor in Theatre & Performance), James Rattee (PhD film-maker) and Sonya Chenery (PhD performance-maker) from the Department of Film Theatre & Television at the University of Reading. The research I am carrying out will form the basis for their two interactive, installation-based pieces.017

Postcard from child – D EVAC

My first area of research is the Evacuee Archive – MERL holds a very large collection of film, photographs, press reports, correspondence and documentation of all kinds relating to the evacuation of civilians during World War 2, as well as hundreds of interviews with evacuees (and, occasionally, with those who played host to them, taught them or otherwise played a part in the vast and complex operation of evacuating over three million people).

What has struck me most is the diversity of the evacuee experience. Like many people, I have long been familiar with the classic image of evacuation – large groups of small and bewildered children, probably from the East End of London, shepherded onto trains with gas masks in hands and labels tied to their coats to be billeted with strangers at an unknown destination. Delving into the MERL archive reveals the experience of less well-documented evacuee groups – the many who were “privately” evacuated to family and friends both in Britain and overseas, those sent overseas as part of the government’s CORB (Children’s Overseas Reception Board) scheme, the smaller children evacuated with their mothers, and the many who spent the war in temporary boarding-school -style “camp schools”. The evacuees’ stories range from the touching (happy days helping on the farm, lifelong friendships made with loving ‘second families’) to harrowing accounts of neglect and abuse, and everything in between.

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D EVAC A/1/384

My second area of research is the archive of Reading’s famous Huntley and Palmers biscuit factory, with particular reference to their role as a major supplier of army biscuits to the forces during World War 1. Reading Museum has an intriguing collection of original army biscuits (some still in excellent condition after a hundred years, which gives some idea of their hardness) which were carved, decorated, painted, written on and sometimes sent home as mementos, love tokens and even picture frames by bored Tommies at the front. The Huntley and Palmers archive at MERL sheds light on the manufacturing processes involved in producing thousands of tons of the biscuits, with handwritten recipes, correspondence with the War Office, and a great deal of documentation showing how the company struggled to fulfill their orders as ingredients and even packaging became more and more scarce and a significant proportion of their workers left to join the forces.  I hope the exhibition will shed light on this period of Reading’s industrial history, as well as giving the public a chance to see some truly fascinating objects.

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Ref: HP306

Laura Farrell

Reading Connections Intern

Evacuee archive now available

The Evacuee archive (ref D EVAC) has now been catalogued and the majority of the collection is available for consultation in our reading room.  Some parts of the collection are closed to the public, because of Data Protection issues.  Please contact us if you would like to know more about this.

It is a fascinating collection and is already being used by a PhD student, and Laura Farrell, one of the Reading Connections project interns  has been researching the collection, which will form the basis of a piece by Dr Teresa Murjas for the project. There will be a blog post about this very soon.


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A pair of moccasins, probably from an evacuee who was evacuated to Canada, although there are no details with them ref D EVAC K/2

Zoe Watson

Reading Connections Project Manager

Internship blog post – Evelyn Williams

I have been volunteering at Reading Museum since 2010 first as part of the Reminiscences Project, then Historypin and most recently Revealing Reading’s Hidden History. Through the internship, I have the opportunity to work full time for a period and see a lot more of how the Museum works. I hope to become more professional, efficient and effective in museum related activities and tasks. The role will also contribute to my own personal development. Working with colleagues from MERL adds a stimulating dimension to this project.

Research on the Reading Chronicle Collection continues and I am working with Project Officer Sophie to prepare information relating to the images that have been selected for an online catalogue.

My time is split between Reading Library where the microfilm copies of the Berkshire Chronicle are available to look at, and Reading Museum where I add to the data and information already held about the image.

Berkshire Chronicle has transported me back to the Reading of 1939 just before and just after the outbreak of the Second World War as it reports on how the outbreak of war affects life in the town. Some familiar local places, people and events crop up but I am learning all the time about Reading’s history.

Some stunning images have been selected to be showcased online covering the length and breadth of life in Reading. From these I have selected an image from June 1939 of the staff of the Berkshire Chronicle before they set off on their annual outing. The scene is in Valpy Street outside the Berkshire Offices and alongside Reading Museum, with Blagrave Street in the background, everyone is dressed up and ready to go.

 

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Evelyn Williams

Project Intern, Reading Museum

 

The word spreads about ‘Reading at War’… even Tony Blackburn’s talking about it!

At this time of year many of us will reflect on those who have fought for their country and, in particular, on those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

As we approach Remembrance Day,  the local press have taken a keen interest in the Reading at War aspect of the Reading Connections project, part of which aims to highlight the stories of the 146 individuals who feature in Reading University College’s Memorial Bookall of whom tragically lost their lives in the First World War. We are delighted that the Reading Post and BBC Radio Berkshire have been keen to focus on some of these incredible stories.

During their visit, two reporters from The Reading Post met myself and project volunteer, Jeremy Jones, and were shown the Memorial Book. They were introduced to some of the individuals who feature in it and explored the project’s designated flickr site. The flickr site is a fantastic resource as it not only allows people to view those individuals but it also contains, where known, further biographical details about them and their connections to Reading University College. These details are just the tip of the iceberg and, of course, we are appealing for anyone who has more information about, or photographs of, any of the individuals to get in touch.

Although we were unable to take the Memorial Book with us for our BBC Radio Berkshire broadcast, it was still very much the main focus of our discussion.

Tony Blackburn

Phillippa Heath, Tony Blackburn and Jeremy Jones at the BBC Radio Berkshire Studio  

There, Jeremy and I were interviewed as part of  Tony Blackburn’s show. Tony was incredibly enthusiastic and interested in the work we are carrying out. Not only was it a fantastic opportunity to promote the project, but it also brought to the fore the heart-wrenching stories of some of those students who gave so much.

If you missed the broadcast, it should be possible to ‘listen again’ at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01jryvj (the interview took place at 10.50 am on 07/11/13). All being well, the project will also feature in the Reading Post on 8th November, and a short edited video about the project will feature on their website. Our media coverage of the project will continue on Sunday, 10th November at 9 am when Guy Baxter, University Archivist, will also be interviewed on BBC Radio Berkshire about the Reading at War project.

 

Phillippa Heath

Reading at War Project Officer, Museum of English Rural Life