Cataloguing Cole: Fishes, Photographs and the Forces

Written by Sharon Maxwell, Archivist (Cataloguing & Projects)

Some of the original packaging used by Cole to house his archive

Some of the original packaging used by Cole to house his archive

I have recently been cataloguing the personal papers of Professor Francis J Cole, (1872-1959), the first Professor of Zoology at the University of Reading. The fascinating papers in the Cole collection include research for his academic writings and publications, bibliographies and indexes relating to his library and his bibliographic studies and photographic material including thousands of glass negatives and lantern slides used by Cole in his teaching.  Cataloguing this material has given me an insight into Cole’s research methods and his interests.

Cole was born in London, England on 3 February 1872. On leaving school Cole’s aim was to go to Oxford and read zoology. He learnt zoology at the Royal College of Science, and he also attended lectures at the Royal Institution and studied at Christ Church, Oxford and the University of Edinburgh.  In 1894 he was appointed lecturer in zoology at Liverpool University College, later the University of Liverpool.  He stayed there for twelve years and combined work during term time at Liverpool with research during vacation at Jesus College, Oxford.  In this way he obtained a B.Sc.

In later years Cole re-used many of his old College notebooks to record his research notes, examples of which can be seen here, alongside a photograph of Professor Cole taken in 1939 (MS 5315/2/2)

In later years Cole re-used many of his old College notebooks to record his research notes, examples of which can be seen here, alongside a photograph of Professor Cole taken in 1939 (MS 5315/2/2)degree at Oxford by research in 1905.

degree at Oxford by research in 1905. In 1906 Cole took up an appointment as lecturer in zoology at University College, Reading, and in the following year became the first occupant of the chair of zoology, which he held until his retirement in 1939.  In these thirty-two years he built up a flourishing department, founded a Museum of Comparative Anatomy which is now called by his name, and collected a magnificent library of early works on medicine and comparative anatomy.


He was awarded the Rolleston Prize at Oxford in 1902 for his researches on the cranial nerves of fishes, Chimaera.  Later he published a series of papers on the myxinoid fishes and received the Neill Gold Medal and Prize of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1908.  His D. Sc., Oxford, followed in 1910. During World War I he was commissioned in the 4th Territorial Battalion

A small image of Professor Cole in his uniform and a notebook he used to record notes for his work with his Battalion on the east coast during WWI, you can see his diagram detailing positions and trenches

A small image of Professor Cole in his uniform and a notebook he used to record notes for his work with his Battalion on the east coast during WWI, you can see his diagram detailing positions and trenches

of the Essex Regiment and was stationed on the east coast in charge of a coastal gun emplacement.


Cole’s detailed notes and transcriptions of each letter written by Leeuwenhoek

Cole’s detailed notes and transcriptions of each letter written by Leeuwenhoek

Returning to Reading after the war Cole turned more and more to the history of biology. His collection includes research for many of his major publications on this subject, including the zoological researches of Antony van Leeuwenhoek (1632–1723), and his history of comparative anatomy.

The material that has survived in Cole’s archive gives you an insight into his style of research, he liked to produce detailed indexes to sources that he used, which refer you to material within his own library and to sources he found in other libraries and museums, so that you can closely follow his research path.  He also took great care with the illustrations produced to accompany his published writings, drawing many of the original images himself and annotating proofs until they were perfect for publication.

Proofs and original drawings by Cole for his study on the nerves and sense organs of fishes, (MS 5315/1/2)

Proofs and original drawings by Cole for his study on the nerves and sense organs of fishes, (MS 5315/1/2)


Cole clearly liked to enliven his lectures and talks, and his collection includes thousands of glass

Index cards created by Cole to keep track of his vast collection of glass negatives, (MS 5315/3/14)

Index cards created by Cole to keep track of his vast collection of glass negatives, (MS 5315/3/14)

negatives and lantern slides.  Ceri, our Reading Room Assistant is currently cataloguing these images and each negative will soon be digitised so that an image of the negative will appear alongside its catalogue description. Our volunteers Ron and Jan are carefully re-packaging these items into acid-free covers and boxes to preserve them for the future.

Professor Cole’s papers are available for research in the reading room, reference MS 5315 and the glass negatives will be available to view on our online catalogue in the near future.


Sources and further reading:

Much of the biographical information above was taken from an article written by N.B. Eales in the Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences 1959, Vol. XIV, No. 1

See also the Cole Library and the Cole Museum for further insight into Professor Cole’s collections

Travel Thursday – Great Western Railway

Written by Louise Cowan, Trainee Liaison Librarian

Title page of 'The History and Description of the Great Western Railway' by J. C. Bourne - 1846

‘The History and Description of the Great Western Railway’ by J. C. Bourne – 1846

The Great Western Railway (GWR) was founded in 1833 and received an enabling Act of Parliament in August 1835 that allowed the company to provide a double tracked line from Bristol to London (Daniel, 2013).

Five years ago, no man had ever travelled from London to Bristol, even by the mail in much less than twelve hours; upon the opening of the railway the distance was performed in four hours 

(Bourne, 1846)

Isambard Kingdom Brunel was appointed as the project’s engineer, determining the route, sections and estimates (Bailey, 2006).  He also designed a controversial broad gauge track in an effort to increase speeds and passenger comfort (Daniels, 2013).

Construction of the line finally began in 1836; initial stages saw work being completed between Bristol and Bath in the West, and Reading and London in the East with connecting lines and stations quickly following. (Daniels, 2013).  Upon completion in 1841, the GWR was considered such an outstanding achievement that it was dubbed ‘God’s Wonderful Railway’ by many (Trueman, 2016) and in 1846 John C. Bourne published “The History and Description of the Great Western Railway” with the express purpose of highlighting, the “constructive skill and general grandeur of appearance,” of the project.

Bourne’s work is a fascinating insight into an exciting period in the history of transport and travel; it gives a brief history of the political and economical challenges faced by the GWR, an overview of the scientific and engineering principles involved in the construction of railways and locomotives, and then presents an array of beautiful lithographs highlighting the remarkable construction and architectural work found along the tracks.

but the straightness of a railway, and the rapidity of the motion upon it, entirely shut out its far greater and more numerous works, and thus some of the most magnificent structures in the kingdom, though crossed daily by thousands, are actually seen by few.

(Bourne, 1846)

Highlights from among the lithographs include:

Paddington Station, London (Bourne, 1846)

Paddington Station, London (Bourne, 1846)

An early Paddington Station, the London terminus of the railway designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

The railway leaves Paddington in cutting, but the Kensal-Green Cemetery, with its glittering temple, is seen on the right, and on the left an occasional view of the Vale of the Thames.

(Bourne, 1846)



The Wharncliffe Viaduct (Bourne, 1846)

The Wharncliffe Viaduct (Bourne, 1846)

The Wharncliffe Viaduct, the largest piece of brickwork along the railway and one of the first pieces of work to be complete.

The arches are elliptical, eight in number: the span of each is seventy feet, and the rise seventeen feet six inches.  The piers are composed each of two square massive pillars of brick, slightly pyramidal, and of a character somewhat Egyptian.

(Bourne, 1846)


The Engine House, Swindon (Bourne, 1846)

The Engine House, Swindon (Bourne, 1846)

The engine house at Swindon, which gives an interesting behind the scenes look into the operations of the GWR:

[It is]capable of accommodating about a hundred engines: these consist of the engines in actual use, of the stock of spare engines, and of those undergoing repair.  At this station every train changes its engine, so that from this circumstance alone, at least twice as many engines are kept here as at any other part of the line.

(Bourne, 1846)


By 1842, GWR and two other railways owned by the company had over 170 miles of line and in that year, conveyed 869, 444 passengers without a single casualty.


Great Western Railway Map

Great Western Railway Map

This fantastic map from our Eynsham Park Estate archive shows the

Detail of the Great Western Railway Map showing lines near Reading

Detail of the Great Western Railway Map showing lines near Reading

success of GWR roughly sixty-eight years later.  Lithographed by the well-respected W. & A.K. Johnston Ltd, and designed to be hung on the wall, the map highlights the reach of the GWR across the South of England with the red lines indicating GWR’s main lines, branch lines and running powers.


Great Western Railway Ticket designed by De la Rue.

Great Western Railway Ticket designed by De la Rue.

Our archives hold a number of other fascinating pieces of GWR ephemera including some beautiful photographs of Reading Station (c.1880 – 1930s), portraits of Railway Workers, and this lovely blank specimen of a season ticket printed by De la Rue c.1930.





  a work of mechanical art represents the united efforts of many generations

(Bourne, 1846)

Bridge Over the River Avon (Bourne, 1846)

Bridge Over the River Avon (Bourne, 1846)

You can find more on the Great Western Railway from our collections here  and information on accessing our archives here.







Sources and further reading:

Bailey, M. R. (2006) Briefing: I. K. Brunel: Engineer of the Great Western Railway. Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers – Transport 2006 159:2, 57-61

Bourne, J. C. (1846) The History and Description of the Great Western Railway. London: David Bogue [Reserve Large Folio 47 – Available upon request]

Daniel, John (2013) Great Western history, 1835 – 1892.

Trueman, C.N. (2016) Trains 1830 To 1900.

An A-Z of the University’s Museums and Collections

@52Museums Instaphabet

@52Museums Instaphabet

Earlier this month the University of Reading’s Museums and Collections collaborated on an exciting project for @52Museums on Instagram.  The 52 Museums programme, which began in January 2016, sees a new museum taking over the running of the 52 Museums Instagram and Twitter page each week in order to share their collections, exhibitions, achievements and more with the world.

To best showcase our fantastic range of collections we produced an A-Z guide or ‘instaphabet’ featuring lettering from our Typography collection and Special Collections Library alongside art, artefacts and anecdotes from the Museum of English Rural Life, Cole Museum of Zoology, URE Museum of Greek Archaeology, our Herbarium, Art collection and Volunteers.

Some of the highlights from the Special Collections Library and Archive include:

Di - De la RueD is for De la Rue
The De la Rue printing firm was founded in Bunhill Row, London in 1837. It manufactured Christmas and other social stationery, playing cards, stamps and railway tickets, and undertook security printing.
Our collection consists of correspondence, financial papers, designs and specimens from the period 1837-1965; including designs for Reading’s famous Huntley and Palmers Biscuit Company.


Ri - Ruralia commoda - Ptrus de CrescentiusR is for Ruralia Commoda
The Ruralia commoda is the oldest printed book in our rare book collections. Written by Petrus de Crescentius in 1471, it is an early agricultural manual, and is said by some to have been the most important original medieval work on agriculture, husbandry and horticulture.



Yi - Yellow Brick RoadY is for Yellow Brick Road
This beautiful illustration of the Yellow Brick Road by W.W. Denslow is from our 1st edition copy of ‘The wonderful wizard of Oz’ by L. Frank Baum (1900). Our Special Collections Library is home to a fantastic Wizard of Oz collection, comprising around 800 volumes, including many editions and translations of The Wizard of Oz, and other associated items.


See our full #instaphabet in all its glory on Instagram!

Archive or Objects: Cataloguing Ladybird Artwork

Written by Clare Plascow, Collections Officer

How do you catalogue an artwork? That is the question I’ve been trying to solve over the last few days. Usually the answer would be simple…it would be added to the Art Collection area of the University of Reading’s Collections Management System (CMS). Complicating the matter, however, is the fact that this artwork is not just a ‘normal’ painting instead it is part of the Ladybird Artwork Archive which includes 700 boxes of original art used to illustrate hundreds of books.


A few boxes in storage … with many more out of shot

Individually painted and beautifully detailed, by commercial artists who specialised in different styles, these artworks were instrumental in depicting the clear message of the Ladybird books and partially the reason for their continued popularity. Ironically the familiar pocket-sized books only started to be produced around 25 years after Wills & Hepworth first started printing the inexpensive Ladybird books in 1914 in runs between their main commercial jobs. It was also by necessity rather than design, with paper shortages during the Second World War creating a rethink in the formatting which allowed a book of 56 pages to be printed on a single sheet of 40 by 30 inch paper.

MS 5336_634_24

One of the printing presses used to print Ladybird books. Illustration from The Story of Printing, A Ladybird ‘Achievement’ book by David Carey, illustrated by Robert Ayton.

Covering a huge variety of subjects with educational and informative content, Ladybird books offered young readers the opportunity to pursue knowledge themselves. Ladybird capitalised on their user-friendly layout with full page illustrations to develop literary, publishing both the Key Words Reading Scheme and Learning to Read series, which were often used to teach children how to read in the 1950s to 1970s.

MS 5336_375_23

How many milk bottles? Illustration from Numbers, A Ladybird ‘Learning to Read’ Book by Margaret Gagg, illustrated by G. Robinson.

Adding to the complexity involved in cataloguing this artwork, Ladybird did not reproduce new versions of the art required for updated publications instead the original paintings would either be reused or if necessary be carefully modified. This means that a single work could have appeared in several different versions of a book which can create problems in hierarchies used by Archives. The method of revising paintings can be seen in this print from Exploring Space where a close-up shows an earlier outline of the lunar module from before the 1969 Moon landing.

MAIN_IMAGE_MS 5336_384_15_with credit line

Astronauts exploring craters on the Moon. Illustration from the revised edition of Exploring Space, A Ladybird ‘Achievements’ Book by Roy Worvill, illustrated by Brian Knight and Bernard H. Robinson.

Held by the University of Reading on behalf of Penguin Random House, the Ladybird Artwork Archive has actually been catalogued previously…but only to box level. This gives us a really good overview of what is held in the collection but we now want to delve deeper to record individual works.

MS 5336_3_14

A bank vole. Illustration from What to look for in Spring, A Ladybird ‘Nature’ Book by E.L. Grant Watson, illustrated by Charles Tunnicliffe.

So why catalogue them now? With the redevelopment of the Museum of English Rural Life, a space to display some of this artwork has been created so we are now able to share objects from this amazing archive. Several prints from this collection have also been sent to other museums and galleries on loan to temporary exhibitions. This means that we have needed to record more information about the original artworks as they have been sent out, but this has been as needed and it makes sense to us that we catalogue the entire collection. With each work being recorded, links will need to be made to the original book and any revised editions, as well as to the different publication series.

MS 5336_101_24

The black-headed gull. Illustration from British Birds and their Nests, A Ladybird ‘Nature’ Book by Brian Vesey-Fitzgerald, illustrated by Allen W. Seaby.

Considering that each box holds anywhere from 20 to 50 items it’s a lot of catalogue so I want to make sure that I get it right first time. Which leads me right back to my original dilemma … Object or Archive?

Discover our collection strengths – new Special Collections web pages

Written by Fiona Melhuish, UMASCS Librarian

A new set of web pages for the Special Collections website is in production to help researchers discover more about our collection strengths. The new pages will provide more thematic entry points into our collections, and hopefully encourage a more integrated, cross-collection exploration of the University’s resources which will help researchers make the most of our collections.

To browse the index of pages, go to our home page and either click on ‘Explore our collection strengths’ on the main page or click on ‘Collection strengths’ under the ‘Collections’ tab on the left-hand menu as indicated below:

SC homepage


Collections strengths page


In addition to an existing page on authors’ and writers’ papers, two further pages have been published, one on book history and another on children’s books [see below], with more to follow on themes such as business history, literature and art of the 1890s, the First and Second World Wars, and science, medicine and mathematics, so watch this space!

If you have any comments or suggestions to make about these pages, please let us know.


Childrens books web page