New acquisition: a collection of rare agricultural pamphlets

Written by Erika Delbecque, UMASCS Librarian

We are delighted to announce the purchase of a collection of twenty-two rare agricultural pamphlets from the mid-19th century. These works, which relate to the agricultural innovations and economics of this period, will enhance our existing collection strengths in British agricultural history.


A report of the discussion on drainage, 1848

The collection includes rare works on early applications of agricultural chemistry, studies of production and demand, and farmers’ reports on the use of new agricultural equipment. They provide a unique insight into the economic and technological developments in British agriculture in the mid-19th century, a pivotal period that marked the final stages of the British Agricultural Revolution.

Key innovations of this period that are represented include the improvement of agricultural drainage systems and the development of new fertilisers beside manure, such as guano (seabird excrement), sodium nitrates and potash. Another pamphlet promotes George Dollond’s “atmospheric recorder”, a type of weather station that records variations in air pressure, temperature, and humidity, for which he was awarded the council medal at the Great Exhibition of 1851.

An engraved plate showing Dollond's atmospheric recorder, 1845

An engraved plate showing Dollond’s atmospheric recorder, 1845

Not all innovations were as successful. One pamphlet deals with the promotion of the alpaca as a profitable alternative to other breeding stock in England, claiming that the alpaca is “as fat as any sheep I ever saw” and that the animals “never ramble from their hill pasture”. In case alpacas are not of interest, the advertisers add that they also sell “turtle alive, or ready cooked and securely packed in jars”…

The Alpaca, with a wood-engraved illustration, 1844

The Alpaca, with a wood-engraved illustration, 1844

Most of the pamphlets were written by enthusiastic farmers or promoters of new farming methods and agricultural equipment. It was through cheap, often locally printed pamphlets such as these that farmers could keep on top of these developments. Therefore, pamphlets from this period are an important historical source for studying the dissemination of agricultural innovations.

These pamphlets were part of the collection of Sir Walter Gilbey (1831–1914), who was the president of the Royal Agricultural Society of England in the late nineteenth century. He donated his collection to the Society in 1896, where they remained until they were sold along with the rest of the RASE collections in 2014.

The pamphlets will now be processed and catalogued, and then join the rest of our extensive MERL book collections. The library and archives at the Museum of English Rural Life are recognised as one of the most important collections in the country for the study of the history of British agriculture, the countryside and rural society. All items can be consulted in our reading room.

This purchase was generously funded by the Arts Council England/Victoria and Albert Museum Purchase Grant Fund and the Friends of the National Libraries.

University of Reading Art Collections

Collections Audit


The University of Reading has an eclectic Art Collection. Artistic works are held within the University’s Special Collections, and within the University’s museums – including the Museum of English Rural Life.


History of the Art Collections

The Art Collections exist in parallel to the development of the University. Artworks reflect the University’s institutional history and act as a reference to its teaching practices. The collection includes work by previous staff and students, providing tangible links to the earlier School of Art and the University Extension College. More recently, artworks represent the interests of individuals and departments who have contributed to the collection – acquisition was often the result of idiosyncratic benefaction.

Notable Works

A number of significant artists are represented. This includes: Camden Town Group member Walter Sickert, printmaker Stephen Buckley, painter Patrick Caulfield, surrealist and poet Julian Trevelyan, figurative painter Leon Kossoff, Isotype pictogram designer Gerd Arntz, master of the woodcut Allen W. Seaby, cubist Max Weber, engraver Stanley Anderson, abstract photographer Alvin Langdon Coburn, renowned naturalist painter Charles Tunnicliffe, 17th century Baroque artist Peter Paul Rubens, and many others.

The Art Collections comprise a series of distinct collections, each with its own focus and trajectory:


  • Historic Picture Loan Scheme

Now defunct, the Picture Loan Scheme was administered by the Fine Art Department. It lent artworks to University patrons on an annual basis, for a nominal fee. The collection includes paintings and works on paper. The scope of the collection is impressive; it contains examples of printmaking practice from important artists – including numerous signed artist proofs.

Historic Picture Loan Scheme label

Historic Picture Loan Scheme label

  • Betts Collection: Sickert Drawings

Professor Anthony Betts was the University’s first Professor of Fine Art. Betts was instrumental in the establishment of an Honours Degree course in Fine Art in 1937. The Betts collection was amassed by Betts himself and later expanded through the acquisition of work from his estate. It contains a collection of works on paper of international importance by Walter Sickert.

Walter Sickert, The Little Bed, 1902

Walter Sickert, The Little Bed, 1902

  • Betts Collection: Master Drawings

A small but noteworthy collection of drawings by artists including Peter Paul Rubens, James Abbott McNeill Whistler and Frederick Spencer Gore.

Max Weber, Dancing Figures, 1912

Max Weber, Dancing Figures, 1912

  • Betts Archive

The archive contains artworks, preparatory work and teaching aids produced by Professor Betts and his colleague Cyril Pearce, a lecturer in Design & Composition.

Betts Archive: woodcut prints by Prof Betts

Betts Archive: woodcut prints by Prof Betts

  • Minnie Jane Hardman (nee Shubrook) Collection

Minnie Hardman (nee Shubrook) was a female student at the Royal Academy in the late 19th century. Unrivalled in its ability to document her experience, the collection records the work she undertook as a young adult.  It includes examinations on perspective, anatomical and life drawings, as well as examples of her superb sketches and stippling – many of which were awarded prizes by the Academy.

Shubrook/Hardman Archive

Shubrook/Hardman Archive

  • Paintings

The collection contains commissioned portraits of Chancellors and people of merit associated with the University. This includes portraits of members of the Palmer family, who continue to support the University.  There are a number of historic and contemporary views of Whiteknights Park, including 19th century landscapes by Thomas Christopher Hofland. Attributed as being America’s first cubist painter, the collection includes 15 canvases by Max Weber.  Among others, the collection contains work by 20th century painters Alan Lowndes, John Randall Bratby and Leon Kossoff.

Leon Kossoff, Wilesden Junction Early Morning, 1962

Leon Kossoff, Wilesden Junction Early Morning, 1962

Due to the nature of artistic works and their inability to be defined effectively by a single collection, artistic works appear across UMASCS.  Noteworthy bodies of artworks include:


  • Ladybird Artwork Archive (Special Collections)

The University of Reading cares for over 700 boxes of original artwork used to illustrate Ladybird children’s books. The iconic paintings contributed to the success of the books in raising literacy levels among British children in the 1950s-1970s. The collection includes iconic artwork such as Harry Wingfield’s Shopping with Mother.

Ladybird pop-up display © Ladybird Books Ltd

Ladybird pop-up display © Ladybird Books Ltd

  • Livestock Portraiture (Museum of English Rural Life)

A collection of 18th and19th century Livestock Portraiture, including prints and oil paintings. The images are a historical record, which document the process of English livestock improvement. Artworks capture the physiological changes that are the result of early attempts at selective breeding by pioneering farmers.

MERL Livestock Portraiture 64/104

MERL Livestock Portraiture 64/104

2016 Project

This year, and moving forwards, the University is committed to the development of the Art Collections.  The University is addressing numerous collections management issues and hoping to build the profile of the Art Collections for a wider community of users, through a series of engagement activities.  The project aims to achieve a number of things, the work involves:

  • Auditing the collection and retrospectively cataloguing individual artworks on the Adlib collections database
  • Digitising artworks and making the collection accessible online,  via the University’s Enterprise catalogue and the ARTUK website
  • Improving the physical care of artworks through a programme of remedial conservation and preventative conservation, such as re-framing and improving storage conditions
  • Providing access to the collections through a series of pop-up displays, a programme of lunch-time talks ‘Art Collections in Conversation’, and taking part in University events such as the Collections Fair and Engagement Week. Inviting students and researchers to access material in the Reading Room and encouraging the use of the collections within teaching & learning. Using the Art Collections to enhance Artist Residency programmes.
  • Displaying artworks within the new galleries at MERL as part of the Our Country Lives redevelopment project (opening October 2016), displaying artworks within the new Ladybird Gallery (opening October 2016) and displaying artworks in temporary display spaces around campus such as the 2016 Christmas Display in the Staircase Hall. Improving and installing permanent interpretation of artworks around the University campus.
  • The project also supports the training and development of three young volunteers.


If you have any questions about the Art Collections please contact Jacqueline Winston-Silk and follow our progress on Twitter @UniRdg_ArtCol



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?

Art Collections in Conversation

Art Collection


Art Collections in Conversation: a series of FREE 45-minute lunchtime events


An opportunity to see and collectively discuss material from the University of Reading’s diverse Art Collections in a series of object-focused events.

Artworks which are usually in storage will be brought to venues around campus.

Learn how to access and use the Art Collections within your research. Led by the University’s Art Collections Officer, Collections Officer and invited guests.

Each event will be broadcast live via Periscope. Live Periscope streams can be accessed through the University of Reading’s Art Collections twitter @UniRdg_ArtCol


Free to attend, but booking is essential.

No food or drink is permitted.


Information about the Art Collections

The University of Reading has an eclectic Art Collection. Artistic works are held within the University’s Special Collections, and within the University’s museums – including the Museum of English Rural Life.

A number of significant artists are represented. This includes: Camden Town Group member Walter Sickert, printmaker Stephen Buckley, surrealist painter and poet Julian Trevelyan, figurative painter Leon Kossoff, Isotype pictogram designer Gerd Arntz, master of the woodcut Allen W. Seaby, cubist Max Weber, engraver Stanley Anderson, abstract photographer Alvin Langdon Coburn, renowned naturalist painter Charles Tunnicliffe, 17th century Baroque artist Peter Paul Rubens, and many others. The collection includes oils, works on paper and printmaking practices.

Artworks relate to the history of the University, its teaching methods and the varied interests of individuals who have acquired works for the collection over the years. The collection is further enhanced by the work of previous students.

The University of Reading also cares for over 700 boxes of original artwork used to illustrate  Ladybird children’s books.

The University continues to inventory and catalogue the Art Collections. As we do this, the intention is to build the profile of the collections. Our aim is to make the artworks accessible and relevant to the University’s students and specialist researchers. We would like to continue to engage a wider community of users, including the public.


Ladybird collections at Reading Culture Day


We were invited to take part in Reading Culture Day. The event took place at the Whiteknights Campus on Wednesday 17th February, during the University’s Enhancement Week.


Reading Ladybird, pop-up display. Art Collections Officer Jacqueline Winston-Silk and Reading Room Supervisor Adam Lines. Photo courtesy Dr Rhi Smith. All Ladybird artwork © Ladybird Books Ltd.

Reading Ladybird, pop-up display. Art Collections Officer Jacqueline Winston-Silk and Reading Room Supervisor Adam Lines. Photo courtesy Dr Rhi Smith. All Ladybird artwork © Ladybird Books Ltd.


The day’s events and activities were designed to celebrate and explore cultural diversity within the University of Reading and the wider community. It encouraged students to take an international outlook and to think about our place within the global community. Among the many contributors, there was a tour of coffee from around the world, foreign film screenings, representatives from the Camp America experience and even a henna artist. It was also an opportunity to take a break and re-fresh. There were free yoga sessions, an introduction to the practice of mindfulness and tips on how to manage academic work and stress. The inclusion of Reading Culture Day within the Spring 2016 Enhancement Week programme was seen to be particularly fitting due to the fact that 2016 has been declared Reading’s ‘Year of Culture’.


Pop-up Display

The Museum of English Rural Life and Special Collections staff curated a pop-up display of Ladybird archive material, and advised students on how to access the wealth of collections, archives and material culture housed at the London Road Campus. We encouraged students to think about how this resource could be used to support and enhance their research. You can find out more here. We also invited a member of the MERL Student Panel to join us for the day, giving new students an opportunity to be involved with the Museum. You can read more about the Panel’s activities here.


Photo courtesy Laura Jean Bennetto. © University of Reading.

Photo courtesy Laura Jean Bennetto. © University of Reading.


Our pop-up display Reading Ladybird showcased the archive of original Ladybird artworks which forms part of the University’s Special Collections. The University is responsible for the care of over 700 boxes of these iconic paintings, each one a rich illustration from a page of a Ladybird children’s book.


Photo courtesy Jacqueline Winston-Silk. All Ladybird artwork © Ladybird Books Ltd.

Photo courtesy Jacqueline Winston-Silk. All Ladybird artwork © Ladybird Books Ltd.


Ladybird has been an intrinsic part of British childhood for much of the twentieth century, particularly if you grew up between the 1950s and 1970s. The books are a reflection of the wider world, and of the interests of children. We were surprised and happy to hear that many of our younger students, including our international students were familiar with the books and had a nostalgic relationship to the material.


Photo courtesy Jacqueline Winston-Silk.

Photo courtesy Jacqueline Winston-Silk.


To hear more about the history, design and scope of Ladybird publishing, listen to our curator-led tour of the display in this short video.




Using the collections in Teaching & Research

Ladybird acted both as an educator and storyteller with comprehensive subject matters. The natural world, the dramatisation of history, technology and engineering, domesticity, factual science and well-loved fairy tales all had a place within Ladybird’s pages. There are also a number of Ladybird books on agricultural subjects which are explored in the Museum of English Rural Life.


Photo courtesy Jacqueline Winston-Silk. All Ladybird artwork © Ladybird Books Ltd.

Photo courtesy Jacqueline Winston-Silk. All Ladybird artwork © Ladybird Books Ltd.


As a researcher you might find an interesting angle on your subject through its treatment in a Ladybird book. Likewise, if you’re researching social history, book design, teaching pedagogy or children’s literature then accessing Ladybird is a fantastic opportunity to conduct object-based research.


If you missed the pop-up exhibition, you can view the Ladybird archive by appointment. Contact Special Collections either by phone (0118 378 8660) or by email (

LGBT History Month: Lord Wolfenden, the man ahead of his time

Written by Adam Koszary, MERL Project Officer.

February marks LGBT History Month, and to celebrate it we’re exploring the man who laid the ground for more liberal attitudes to sexuality in Britain.


59 years ago John Wolfenden released a report which proposed that homosexual intercourse between consenting adults should be decriminalized. The uproar it produced in politics, the press and public discourse eventually helped pave the way for LGBT rights in the UK.

Lord Wolfenden's official University portrait. [UAC/10062, Brenda Bury 1963]

Lord Wolfenden’s official University portrait. [UAC/10062, Brenda Bury 1963]

Lord Wolfenden,  Vice Chancellor of the University of Reading between 1950–1964 and future Director of the British Museum, was chosen to head the Departmental Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution in 1954. After three years of consulting experts, they produced what was known as the Wolfenden Report. At its core was the principle that:

a person should be free to do or see what he wishes in the sexual sphere; he should also be free not to have what he objects to forced upon him.

The Report itself was punitive toward prostitution, but it was the second part on homosexuality which provoked the most debate in the press. The Sunday Express dubbed it a ‘pansies’ charter,’ the Evening Standard called it ‘bad, retrograde, and utterly to be condemned,’ while the Daily Mail categorizing its proposals as ‘legalized degradation.’

Lord Wolfenden received letters from those less than impressed by the Report. [MS 5311/2/15]

Lord Wolfenden received letters from those less than impressed by the Report. [MS 5311/2/15]

The report also had its advocates. A Roman Catholic priest of the time stated that ‘the community should not, in general, pry into a citizen’s private deeds – even when they are misdeeds.’ The Times editorialized that ‘adult sexual behaviour not involving minors, divorce, fraud, or public indecency belongs to the realm of private conduct, not of criminal law.’

Such was the interest provoked by the subject in the Sunday Times that they separately published its article with a selection of accompanying letters. The wide range of opinion in these letters bely the beginnings of the cultural shift that would culminate in the moral revolutions of the 1960s.

The Sunday Times released their article on the issue in separate publication, complete with letters they received on the subject.

The Sunday Times released their article on the issue in separate publication, complete with letters they received on the subject.

The fact that it took another ten years for the Wolfenden Report’s proposals were adopted, however, certainly says something about Britain at that time. Despite his own son being homosexual, Wolfenden always admitted that he was no crusader for homosexual rights, stating:

My job was to chair a committee, present the findings to the government, and then ‘it’s over to you, mate,’ I thought.

Indeed, it was not for lack of scientific evidence that homosexuality was punished in 20th century Britain, but because of a complex legacy of persecution, puritanism and myth. For instance, the committee found ‘no evidence for the view that such conduct is the cause of the demoralisation and decay of civilizations.’ They also dismissed the ‘concept of homosexuality as a disease. On the criterion of symptoms, it is often the only one associated with full mental health in other respects.’

Lord Wolfenden saw the Report as an impartial, factual document.

Lord Wolfenden saw the Report as an impartial, factual document.

Wolfenden admitted in later years that his Report was ahead of public opinion, though he thought the government could have been bolder in implementing its recommendations. Indeed, by today’s standards the Report does not go far enough. For one, it ignores female homosexuality entirely, and it was later criticized as treating homosexuality as basically immoral and wrong, just not illegal.

As we look back over the past 59 years we can track the painfully slow progress of LGBT civil rights. The Sexual Offences Act decriminalized homosexuality in 1967, and in 1994 the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act lowered the age of consent to 18, and then to 16 in 2001. Relationships between LGBT people was given a boost in 2004 with the Civil Partnership Act, and marriage was legalised in 2013.

The University of Reading regularly flies its LGBT flag.

The University of Reading regularly flies its LGBT flag.

Many now see the position of transsexuals and others on the wide spectrum of sexuality as similar to what homosexuals experienced in the early-mid-twentieth century. What was necessary in 1954 was for someone to collect the evidence, confront prejudice and stir the pot. The Wolfenden Report certainly did that.

This blog was researched using records on Lord Wolfenden held by the University of Reading Special Collections. You can find this material on our catalogue.

In the spotlight: Darwin’s On the Origin of the Species

Written by Erika Delbecque, UMASCS Librarian

Today is Darwin Day, an annual event that marks the anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin on 12 February 1809. It aims to highlight Darwin’s contribution to science and celebrate science in general.

Darwin first published his groundbreaking theory of evolution through natural selection in his famous work On the Origin of the Species, which was published on 24 November in 1859. The 1250 copies of the first impression of the first edition sold out on the first day, and the book would go through six further editions during Darwin’s lifetime.

The title page of On the Origin of the Species

The title page of On the Origin of the Species

University of Reading Special Collections holds a copy of this first impression of the first edition. It can be distinguished from later impressions of the work through the presence of the misprint “speceies” on one page, which was corrected in the second impression.

The page containing the misprint "speceis"

The page containing the misprint “speceies”

The Reading copy is bound in the publishers’ original green cloth. It came to Reading as part of the library of professor F.J. Cole, which was purchased in 1959. Cole was Professor of Zoology at the University of Reading from 1907 to 1939.

The first edition of On the Origin of the Species, in the publisher’s original green cloth binding

When On the Origin of the Species was published 159 years ago, it met with shock, admiration, and astonishment. In the first review, published in the Athenaeum of 19 November 1859, J.R. Leifchild derides the idea that “man descends from the monkeys”, and he concludes that the influence sphere of the book will be limited to the confines of universities and churches:

The work deserves attention, and will, we have no doubt, meet with it. Scientific naturalists will take up the author upon his own peculiar ground; and there will we imagine be a severe struggle for at least theoretical existence. [….] Having introduced the author and his work, we must leave them to the mercies of the Divinity Hall, the College, the Lecture Room, and the Museum.

He could not have been more wrong. From the day of its publication, the interest in On the Origin of the Species went far beyond the scientific community, and the impact of Darwin’s theory on society was profound. Indeed, Darwin’s book has justly earned its place as one of the treasures of the Special Collections here at the University of Reading.


Darwin, Charles. 1859. On the origin of the species. London : John Murray.

[Leifchild, J. R.] 1859. [Review of] On the origin of species. Athenaeum no. 1673 (19 November): 659-660.

Reading Readers – Jack Davies

Jack Davies, Assistant Lecturer of History and PhD student at the University of Kent, tells us about his research into stately home hospitals during the First World War, notably at Cliveden, Buckinghamshire – the home of the Astor family.

The Astor estate at Cliveden, Buckinghamshire (MS 1416/1/6/94)

The Astor estate at Cliveden, Buckinghamshire (MS 1416/1/6/94)

My research examines the social and cultural importance of the stately home hospital during the First World War. These personal residences were used to supplement the inadequate military medical infrastructure to provide care for wounded soldiers from all over the British Empire. The University of Reading’s Special Collections have been remarkably useful due to its Nancy Astor archive (MS 1416). The library contains a wide range of correspondence from Nancy herself, who is most famous for being the first female MP to take a seat in the House of Commons in Great Britain.

A lesser-known fact about Nancy Astor, however, was that her and her husband Waldorf converted their home into a hospital during the First World War. After having their initial offer rejected by the War Office, the Astors turned instead to the Canadian government. Though they rejected the use of the home, they agreed to build a hospital on the covered tennis courts; eventually a 600 bed military hospital was created within the house itself.

Though perhaps a strange place for me to come to do my research, the Nancy Astor archive contains hundreds of examples of personal correspondence between Lady Astor and the men who recovered within the walls of Cliveden. These letters allow an interesting insight to the use of this building as a hospital. Not only do they enable us to gain an understanding of the events that transpired within the hospital, such as:

Correspondence from Albut. L. Pope to Nancy Astor, (9 October, 1952) MS 1416/1/2/693

Correspondence from Albut. L. Pope to Nancy Astor, (9 October, 1952) MS 1416/1/2/693

‘when you [Nancy Astor] played the part of an old lady visiting the Canadian Hospital in which I was a patient at the time, to lecture a young Canadian soldier for paying too much attention to her daughter’.

They also provide the chance to examine the emotional significance that the hospital space held for wounded Canadians and Australians, many of whom were experiencing Britain for the first time:

Correspondence from Private Brook to Nancy Astor, (ND) in ‘First World War Soldiers B 2 1914 – 1921’, MS 1416/1/2/653

Correspondence from Private Brook to Nancy Astor, (ND) in ‘First World War Soldiers B 2 1914 – 1921’, MS 1416/1/2/653


‘I often wish I was wandering round your beautiful place again.’

In an attempt to discover the aristocracy’s attitudes towards the transition of their personal space, I also searched through Lady Astor’s correspondence with a number of her relatives, the most interesting of which were those sent by her brother-in-law J.J. Astor. In one, he bizarrely declared:

Correspondence from J.J. Astor to Nancy Astor, (21 June, 1916) in ‘Col. J.J. Astor (Lord Astor of Hever)’, MS 1416/1/3/4

Correspondence from J.J. Astor to Nancy Astor, (21 June, 1916) in ‘Col. J.J. Astor (Lord Astor of Hever)’, MS 1416/1/3/4

‘I trust you chose the lingerie with care and great taste, not that it would really matter very much, I expect!”

In another, written after he and fiancée Violet Kynynmound had decided upon a wedding date, he wrote:

‘I am so looking forward to seeing you again, please don’t abuse me for getting married, and you will forgive me for it wont you?’ (ND, MS 1416/1/3/4)

Unfortunately the collection does not contain Nancy’s responses to these peculiar letters, and while we may be unable to discover the truth surrounding their relationship, the discovery of this correspondence certainly piqued my attention, as well as the archivists’ after a long day of research.


Jack Davies is an Assistant Lecturer of History and PhD student at the University of Kent.

You can find out more about the Nancy Astor Archive here, and information about accessing our collections here.




Reading Readers – Jeremy

One of our volunteers, Jeremy, tells us about how an encounter with a book of remembrance in the archive has led him to trace the stories of those from the university involved in the First World War.

I started researching the Great War Dead of University College, Reading after being shown the Memorial album containing the names of 141 people who lost their lives, together with photographs of 119 of them. The collecting of photographs as a means of remembering those who died in the war was suggested by Dorothy Nölting at a meeting of the Student Representative Council on 4 November 1915. In October 1919, the Council decided that the photographs should be mounted in an album and displayed in the Union Common Room. That work was carried out by Clara Wilson, a former student of the College and member of staff in the Art Department, and was completed by 28 June 1920.

The inside cover of the Book of Remembrance of those Members of The University College Reading who fell in The War 1914-1918 (MS 5339). The volume contains black and white photographs of each person, with name, rank and regiment and a list of those fallen.

Four years later the College completed the building of a War Memorial in the form of a tower containing a bell and clock. The original intention had been to erect a tower alongside the College Hall at an estimated cost of £5,000-£10,000. It was not possible to raise this amount and the existing tower was built at a cost of £2,750. By the time of the tower’s dedication on 7 June 1924 the list of those who had died extended to 144 names. However, this list excluded two names included in the Memorial Album: those of Francis Edgar Pearse and Wilfred Owen. Was their omission deliberate or accidental? Was it at the request of their families? Were Owen and Pearse deemed in some way not to be members of the College? It would be nice to know why this happened, but so far I have failed to find any explanation.


The University Calendars, available to browse in the open access library at the reading room (378.4229).

In trying to find out more about those who died I looked at a number of sources held by the University of Reading Special Collections Service. The College Calendars contained lists of academic and administrative staff, together with the names of students who had passed examinations, won prizes, been awarded scholarships, and been made associates of the college. They also contained the names of students who held positions within the various student bodies, clubs and societies. The University College Review, which was last published in December 1916, contained the Roll of Honour, obituaries of those who died and details of those on Military Service. The Old Students News, published annually but not in 1918 and 1919, contained similar details to those in the Review. Tamesis, the Student magazine, also contained the names of those on service and those missing, wounded or killed. Additionally, I trawled through boxes of University Archives in the hope of finding something useful. I hoped that I might find details of those students who had been members of the College’s Officer Training Corps, but whilst record cards exist for those who were members of the Corps after the Great War, I have not found any such records for those who were members before 1914.


The Memorial Clock Tower during its construction at the heart of the London Road campus in 1924 (MS 5305/M162).

Starting, I assume, in 1924 and continuing until 1938, the bell in the Memorial Tower was tolled 144 times on 11 November starting at 10.45. At 11 o’clock the bell was struck just once to mark the start of the two minutes silence. Whilst the formal remembrance of the Great War dead continued until the outbreak of the Second World War, I found an item in Tamesis (Vol XXXI, No 1, 1932) that indicated that, with the passage of time, details of those who had died were being forgotten. The article noted that the list of names on the Memorial Tower contained that of one woman, Florence Mary Faithfull (a Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse), and requested information about her. A contribution to Vol XXXI, No 3 provided some details, but we are now able to say so much more about her life and death. Florence was born in India in 1891, the second of five children, to William Conrad and Constance Mary Faithfull. William was an officer in the Indian Army. In 1905 Florence and her elder sister, Constance Ellen, entered the Edinburgh Ladies’ College (now the Mary Erskine School). Florence then studied Commerce at Reading 1909-12. I don’t know what she did after leaving the College, but during the war she nursed, initially, at Fir Grove Military Auxiliary Hospital, Eversley. Her Red Cross record only runs from June 1917 when she went to Salonika. She then went, as part of the 65th British General Hospital, to Basra, and it was here that she lost her life on 15 January 1918. This was not the result of enemy action, but of an accident. The launch, Smelt, in which she and thirteen other members of the hospital were travelling, was in collision with a steam tug. Florence and three other nurses were drowned, although Florence’s body was not recovered until 2 February 1918. The four nurses were buried in adjacent graves in Makina Cemetery (now part of Basra War Cemetery).

What I, and others, have found out about those from the College who died can be seen at There is still more to do as we have yet to properly identify H Turner, probably an evening student who may have served in the Royal Navy, and have yet to explain the omission of the names of Francis Pearse and Wilfred Owen from the Memorial Tower.

Find out more about accessing the archives here.


From Devon to Derbyshire, the Shell Guides to Great Britain

This blog post first appeared earlier this week on Our Country Lives: the new MERL blog.  The Shell Guides we already hold mentioned below are part of our Printing Collection.  Written by Claire Wooldridge, Project Senior Library Assistant: Landscape Institute.

Shell Guides on the shelf

Shell Guides on the shelf

The Shell Guides, published between 1934 and 1984, were designed to be light hearted but engaging guide books to the countryside and historical sites of Great Britain for the growing number of mid twentieth century car owners.  Published by the Architectural Press and funded by Shell-Mex (more driving = more fuel…) the Shell Guides were intended to tag along with day-trippers, being less than 50 pages long they were ideal for a glove compartment.  Bold and visual, each guide contains an introduction to the area covered and descriptions of each place or landmark to be found there.

From Dorset to Derbyshire, Cambridgeshire to Cornwall, the guides covered most regions of Great Britain.  Different regions were studied by different writers, including a host of well know names including John Piper (artist, 1903-1992, writer of Oxfordshire published in 1938) and Paul Nash (artist and painter, 1889-1947, writer of Dorset published in 1935).  Paul Nash went to live in Swanage for a year to work on the book, suffering from shellshock from WW1, this was an opportunity for Nash to find peace in the countryside.  Sir John Betjeman (poet, writer and broadcaster, 1906-1984) edited the series and also contributed several titles, most notably Cornwall (1934).

Selection of Shell Guide covers

Selection of Shell Guide covers

We received several editions of the Shell Guides from the Landscape Institute library, some which were new to us and some which are different editions of titles we already hold.  Several of these were presented by Shell-Mex and B. P. Ltd to the Landscape Institute.  These new additions to the collection will sit alongside our existing ones in our Printing Collection (part of our Special Collections) with Landscape Institute provenance recorded in the catalogue records.

Shell-Mex presentation book plate in Shell guides received from the LI library

Shell-Mex presentation book plate in Shell guides received from the LI library

The guides have an enduring popularity (such as being the focus of books and two TV series, one featuring Richard Wilson and another with David Heathcote, a cultural historian who has written about the Shell Guides) and are very collectable today.  Thirteen Shell Guides were published before the outbreak of WW2 and were reissued after the war.  Different editions within the Shell Guides series, with contemporary typography and images, were published in later decades – making collecting all the different copies something of a challenge!  The Shell Guides from the Landscape Institute Collections make a wonderful addition to our existing holdings.

For more information see David Heathcote’s (2010) A Shell eye on Britain: The Shell County Guides 1934-1984 (Libri).