Experts look deep into Historic World Objects

As the Reading Connections project draws to an official close, a number of consultancy visits have been run as part of its ‘World Cultures’ theme. The most recent of these was a seminar to assess the potential of the Historic World Objects collection for future community engagement, but we’ll hear more about that in a blog post to follow. A wide range of people have been involved in organising and attending these sessions, and towards the end of February one of the Reading Connections interns, Farah Qureshi, helped facilitate an object research visit. She’s written a post about her experiences of the day:

‘As part of the Reading Connections project, a selection of historic world objects collected and donated to Reading Museum between the late-nineteenth century and the mid-twentieth century have been highlighted for further study. Including clothing, weapons, musical instruments and tools, the objects represent historic international cultures and give us an insight into the cultural interests and travels of Reading residents.

As an intern involved in Reading Connections, I joined in helping while museum consultants visited the Reading Museums stores at the end of February to have a close look at these objects. Two of eight consultants who will contribute to the World Cultures theme of the project, Len Pole and Marina De Alarcón, were invited to Reading on the basis of their expertise. Len (freelance, formerly Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery, Exeter) is predominantly a specialist in West-African material, and Marina (the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford) is mostly a specialist in South American material, although their knowledge seemed to know no limits!

After studying Anthropology for my University Masters, I appreciated the opportunity to spend two days working with Len and Marina, learning from Reading’s ethnographic collections. Both consultants have worked extensively with ethnographic collections across the world, and had an impressive wealth of information to share. While they analysed a range of objects, I found that my knowledge of world cultures was greatly enhanced observing the functionality of objects, which often shed light on cultural practices. I wrote down their observations, preparing notes to be attached to database records, and enjoyed being involved in their discussions exploring the purposes of the objects.’

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This ‘executioner’s sword’ from the DRC seems to have been a hit with multiple consultants and project staff!

MERL remembers WW1

 

You may be forgiven in thinking that all has gone quiet regarding the WW1 part of the Reading Connections project but, in fact,things have been busier than ever.

Since the beginning of the year, of course, there has been a significant appetite for commemorating the centenary of the First World War, most obviously, in the media. This interest has also been evident locally where attention has been focused on the impact of the conflict on Reading. Among those delving into this fascinating aspect of our local history have been the University’s History students who, last month, ran a WW1 Roadshow at MERL. This event, as well as showcasing the students’ research on the First World War and Reading, also invited members of the public to bring their WW1 documents, photographs and artefacts and show them to the students and to a panel of experts, including John Chapman of the Trooper Potts Memorial Trust (pictured).

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Of course, as can be seen in this photograph, we couldn’t resist the opportunity to display the Memorial Book and objects dating from the First World War in the MERL collections during the event.

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The Memorial Book is just one of the artefacts which has been selected for display in a free exhibition,  Reading University College: WW1 and Beyond, one of the highlights of the Reading Connections WW1 project. The exhibition was installed yesterday and, as with all installations, involved many hands on deck. The photographs below include Danni Mills (Reading Connections Digitisation and Data Officer) adding the final touches to the displays.

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Reading University College: WW1 and Beyond opened today and will remain on display until the 1st August in the MERL Staircase Hall. Its main focus is the University’s Memorial Book which features those individuals who had connections to the then Reading University College who lost their lives in the First World War. That said, it is a display which also examines how our collections relate to other conflicts. Among the more surprising and remarkable objects on display are a selection of tiles from Hiroshima which were donated to Special Collections in 2011.

Throughout the exhibition’s duration, our appeal to find out more about those individuals who feature in the Memorial Book still continues. Our appeal launched last Autumn and asks for the public to look at our flickr site where all of the individuals in the Memorial Book are featured and, if they can, to provide information on them. To access our flickr site please click here.

 

Phillippa Heath

Reading Connections Digital and On-line Engagement Officer.

 

The Chronicle Collection – The1960s

Since my last update at Christmas, my research on the Chronicle Collection owned by Reading Museum has continued with the help of Project Intern, Farah Qureshi. I have worked systematically and chronologically through the collection beginning with photographs taken in the 1930s for the Berkshire Chronicle newspaper before moving on to the 1940s and 1950s.

In nearing completion of the research stage for the photographs selected for the online resource, I am now researching photographs from the 1960s, the final decade for this strand of the project.

‘The Sixties’ denotes a time of revolution in social norms and a relaxation of social taboos. It has become a period synonymous with the new, radical, and rebellious cultural and political movements and trends of the time. It is also an era I find of particular interest, so I have chosen a few of my favourite photographs from this period to share.

The first is that of ‘Screaming’ Lord Sutch at 20 years of age, performing at the Majestic Ballroom on Caversham Road in Reading at an event aimed at teenagers. Mr David Apps, the Majestic manager expressed his surprise at the popularity of Screaming Lord Sutch with the audience.  The singer was backed on stage by his band, The Savages. The Berkshire Chronicle described Lord Sutch as wearing “his hair about 18 inches long” and always appearing “in odd clothes like an old tattered loin cloth or some Eskimo outfit”. Sutch gained notoriety for his horror-themed stage show, dressing as Jack the Ripper, pre-dating the stage antics of the likes of Alice Cooper. During Sutch’s music career he worked with Keith Moon of the Who, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, Ritchie Blackmore who would later become a guitarist in Deep Purple and Charlie Watts of the Rolling Stones. He later forced a career in politics having founded The Official Monster Raving Loony Party in 1983, a registered UK political party famed for its deliberately bizarre policies aimed at satirising British politics. Sutch sadly suffered from manic depression and committed suicide in 1999.

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The second is American ‘Ban the Bomb’ marchers on Wokingham Road in Reading. The marchers, facing hardship and possible loss of freedom trooped into Reading after beginning their walk in San Francisco in California 6 months previously. Their route took them across America to New York where they were then flown to England. The walk was organised by the American Committee for Non-violent Action, in an effort to “make people in the West and the East see the follies of nuclear armaments”. Upon arrival in Reading they were joined by Reading Youth Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and Reading University Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. They were applauded by a 200 strong crowd of local people upon reaching the Town Hall on Blagrave Street. The marchers’ next stop was France followed by Belgium, Western and Eastern Germany as well as Poland before their final destination of Moscow in Russia.

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Sophie Fitzpatrick

Reading Connections Project Officer

 

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.

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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

Berkshire in The First World War History Project visit to MERL

Danni Mills (Reading Connections Digitsation/Data Officer) and I recently hosted a visit from Berkshire in The First World War History Project group .  They were keen to see the sort of archives we have here relating to the First World War.  At first I thought we might be a bit limited on material, but once we started looking at the online database we started to find a few interesting items including  the War Memorial Book and material from Suttons Seeds Ltd, Huntley and Palmers, and the books Berkshire and the war : the “Reading Standard” pictorial record 1917-1919

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There was also a PowerPoint presentation of local images for World War I from the Collier Collection and Sulham House Collection.

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There was interest in this image from the Collier collection of Reading Football Club.  There is a chance we might be able to identify more people as a result of expertise in the visiting group.  Hopefully we will be able to add information to our catalogue on this photograph, and the group will be able to find further information here to add to their research.

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If you are curious about the First World War or any other aspect of our Special Collections, we are always keen to welcome individuals or groups to explore our Archives. Do not hesitate to contact us on merl@reading.ac.uk.

Also, if you haven’t done so already, don’t forget to look at our flickr site which shows those people who feature in the University’s Memorial Book who fought and  lost their lives in the First World War

Zoe Watson

Project Archivist/Project Manager – Reading Connections

War poets at the University of Reading

The WW1 memorial book at the University Reading is full of fascinating stories. The book has been digitised and can be seen on our Flickr site. Over the next few months we will be looking at some of the lives of these men and women in more detail.

To start we are going to look at two men, both who were War Poets.

Ernest Denny (1889-1917). 

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Ernest Denny

Ernest Denny was a Yorkshire man by origin, born in West Wisling to parents Robert William and Ellen Hannah Denny. He trained as a teacher and during his attendance at the Reading University College he was a notable presence not only in the sporting sphere but the academic and political as well.

Denny was Deputy Tennis Captain for the years 1914-1915 but did not limit himself, as in the same year he was a member of the Student Union Representative Council, on the committee for the Debating Society, Vice President of Shells, Cofferer of the Gild of the Red Rose and Sub-Editor of Tamesis, the student magazine.

Denny was also a poet and his book ‘Triumphant laughter: Poems, 1914-1917’ was published after his death. During the war he served with the 15th battalion London Regiment and died of his wounds in Belgium. He is buried in Dozinghem Military Cemetery. Click here to see his page on our Flickr site.

Wilfred Owen (1893-1918)

One of the most famous names in the book, Wilfred Owen. Unlike Ernest Denny’s clear connection to Reading University College, Wilfred Owen’s connection is much more tenuous. Despite appearing on the list of service-people with links to the university he does not appear on the memorial itself. It appears that he first studied Botany and Latin but was encouraged by Professor Edith Morley of the English Department to change his studies to English. At this time he was a lay assistant at Dunsden.

A great deal is, of course, already known about Wilfred Owen and is well known as a war poet. He was born in Oswestry in 1893 to Thomas and Harriet S Owen (known as Susan), Wilfred was a teacher by trade. He served in the First World War as a Lieutenant in the 5th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment and was killed in action on the 4th November 1918 at the age of 25. He was awarded the Military Cross for bravery at Joncourt in October 1918 a mere month before his death. Click here to see his page on our Flickr site

 

Historic World Objects: photography and beyond

Felicity McWilliams – Project Officer

This summer was very busy for the Historic World Objects team. By the middle of July we had pretty much put together the final shortlist of the six hundred objects from the Historic World Objects collection that will be featured on the new Reading Museum online catalogue. The next stage was to make sure there are good quality photographs of each of the objects to accompany their online catalogue records.

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Photography in progress at the Reading Museum store.

To this end, Greta, Ollie and I spent a significant portion of the sunny months of July and August inside Reading Museum’s remote store, an Aladdin’s cave of objects in a warehouse-style building on the outskirts of Reading. Buildings designed for objects rather than people don’t always make fantastic working environments, but the lack of natural daylight did mean we could control the light applied to the objects during photography very well! We had two days of training from the University’s photographer and used new photography equipment supplied as part of the project – a fancy DSLR camera, a pop-up illuminated background, and flash lights with soft-boxes and umbrellas. We hope that, once they’ve been tweaked during the editing process, the new photographs will really make a valuable addition to the online catalogue.

A recently photographed object from the Historic World Objects collection.

A recently photographed object from the Historic World Objects collection.

I am now moving on with the research phase of the work on this collection. A new member of the team, Adam, will also be working on this with me for one day a week. We will be carrying out further research into the objects, documentation and collectors. This research will then enable us to write short pieces of text to accompany the basic object information on the online catalogue records. Adam and I will be starting by researching some of the collection’s known collectors. These include Dr Joseph Stevens, the first curator of Reading Museum, and Robert Gibbings, an artist and wood engraver who collected objects whilst travelling in the Polynesian Islands. Last Friday Adam and I attended a Museum Ethnographers Group study day in Birmingham, entitled ‘Researching Donors of Museum Ethnography’. The day was full of really useful tips and advice, and we made some real progress researching some of the donors whose names we had taken along to the event. We hope that some of the objects in the HWO collection will be brought to life in new ways by the stories of the people who collected them and brought them to Reading.

Reading at War – WW1 commemorations and Flickr

By Hayley Whiting – Digital Content and Online Engagement Officer

A key theme of the Reading Connections project is Reading at War. The University of Reading holds in its archive a volume put together to commemorate those servicemen and women who fell during WW1 who were connected to the then Reading University College. It contains photographs of many of those listed on the war memorial built on the London Road Campus and those images have now been digitised and made available on Flickr.

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At team of volunteers, myself and Ceri our intern have researched the service history, personal details and connections with the College for all those listed in the memorial book. This information, with the photographs, is now available on a dedicated Flickr site. The aim is for others with connections to these servicemen and women to add any information they have and the process will be one where others can gain from our research and us from them! All the information will be transferred to our online catalogue.

There are so many fascinating stories behind the photographs and the research has revealed that the College had connections with war poets, Wildred Owen and Ernest Denny, artists, eminent mathematicians, teachers and more. Each name in the volume reveals a huge sacrifice and the research has been heart-wrenching at times. There are some names for which we have not been able to discover the connection to the College, such as Francis Edward Bradshaw-Isherwood, the father of the writer Christopher Isherwood, and the Flickr site provides a way of reaching those who may be able to add vital information to aid our research.

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The end result of this project will ensure that the contribution of those connected with the University of Reading who lost their lives in WW1 will not be forgotten.  Explore the Reading Connections Flickr site to learn more.

Internship Blog Post – Sarah Beattie

I am just over halfway through my internship at Reading Museum, and I’m really enjoying the experience so far.  Having always loved history, and particularly the way that objects are able to bring it to life, I am hoping to make my career in museums, and the experience I have gained at Reading has been invaluable.

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My main role is helping Sophie, Project Officer, with the digitization of the Berkshire Chronicle collection. As Sophie mentioned in her previous post, she has selected over 2000 images highlighting key themes in the collection, and we have spent the last month scanning these and adding the images to our internal database. This in itself has been valuable for the museum, as now these photographs can be viewed without having to touch the delicate glass plate negatives, but I am very excited to move into the next phase: shortlisting the most interesting images and researching the stories behind them, with the aim of making them accessible to the public in an online catalogue. We will be scouring microfilm copies of the Berkshire Chronicle to match the photographs with their stories, as well as conducting wider research on the people and places of Reading, and I’m really looking forward to finding out more about the images we have been working with.

As well as great images of evacuees and landgirls, local events ranging from school sports days to galas at the Town Hall, and famous faces such as Enid Blyton and Alec Guinness, there have also been lots of images of the quirkier side of Reading life – a cow on the loose in a shoeshop, nuns performing synchronized exercises and Father Christmas arriving by helicopter, to name just three!  It is amazing to be part of making these images, many of which have not been seen for over 50 years, available to the public. The online catalogue should be a great resource for anyone interested in the history of Reading, or 20th century history in general, and I’m sure Sophie will keep you up to date with progress on the project.

When I am not helping with the Chronicle project, the staff at Reading Museum have been incredibly helpful and generous with their time in letting me get involved with many aspects of museum work, from leading store tours for Heritage Open Day to helping with the installation of the museum’s upcoming portrait exhibition ‘Making Faces: Tudor to Modern’. I have developed skills in marking objects, store cleaning and environmental monitoring, handling and packing objects and working with the museum database, which I’m hoping will be really useful in my future career.

 

 

The Chronicle Collection

Sophie Fitzpatrick – Project Officer

One strand of the Reading Connections project is to create a web resource, in which material from the collections will be made viewable online. I am working largely on the Chronicle Collection belonging to Reading Museum; a photographic collection impressively boasting over 20,000 images taken between 1938 and 1962 for use in the Berkshire Chronicle Newspaper – now the Reading Chronicle.

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A large and interesting collection, the Chronicle’s content is diverse and covers a wide range of subjects such as war and peace, school, dance, theatre, religion, fetes, weddings, monuments and statues, sport, railways, trams and trolley buses, road accidents, floods, work outings, pubs, agricultural shows, Royal visits and famous visitors (including authors, politicians, theatre performers, film stars, sports men and women, musicians, artists, singers and variety show personalities), all centred in Reading and its surrounding geographical areas.

I have spent the last few months carefully selecting 2,000 images from the collection for the online resource which will essentially create a ‘shop window’ into the diversity and scope of the images the Chronicle Collection has to offer.

Whilst the photographs selected will reflect the varied nature of the collection, ‘war’ and ‘peace’ are particularly strong themes and link to the 2014 ‘Reading at War’ exhibition at Reading Museum. I have therefore selected a moving image from 1939 of a child being fitted for a gas mask to share with you.

Many of the images selected for the online resource are in the form of glass plate negatives which are currently in the process of being digitised using specialist scanning equipment. As this strand of the project evolves, I’ll be sure to keep you updated of my progress.